By Caroline Chenoweth
Caregivers are as varied and unique as those they care for. Your role as a caregiver might be within a professional working environment where you care for patients, or an informal role in supporting a family member. Regardless of whether you are caring for a senior, sibling or young adult, the common thread is the risk of caregiver burnout.
A huge part of minimizing your risk of burnout is to know what it is and how to take care of yourself so that you can better care for another. Thankfully, there is a large amount of information available to help.
What is caregiver burnout?
Caregiver burnout has multiple definitions, but the key message is the same: Burnout is a result of long-term stress, leading to both physical and emotional exhaustion. It differs from everyday stress in its intensity and longevity, leading you, the caregiver, to lose interest in, patience with and motivation for helping your loved one. But the consequences of burnout also seep into other areas of your life, such as your job, relationships, activities and hobbies.
Here’s a list of important symptoms to look out for:
- Appetite changes.
- Neglect or rough treatment of the person you’re caring for.
- Trouble falling or staying asleep.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Mood swings or emotional outbursts.
When looking at this list, it’s important to understand that we all have days when we experience these symptoms. An essential distinction with caregiver burnout is to ask yourself if how you’ve been feeling or acting is significantly and persistently different from your usual behaviour and emotions. The symptoms of caregiver burnout are also seen in depression, so it’s important to speak to a doctor if you think this might be affecting you.
How can I prevent caregiver burnout?
Understanding and preventing caregiver burnout go hand in hand. But you don’t need to wait until you start seeing the signs of burnout in order to apply the recommendations for preventing it. The following strategies are beneficial for us all in maintaining good health.
- Develop a weekly meal plan to help with grocery shopping and remove the stress of daily meal choices.
- Prepare some meals for the freezer, so you can still eat healthily when you’re short of time.
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
- Download a relaxing or meditative soundtrack on your phone to help you fall or get back to sleep.
- Turn off all technology at least 30 minutes before bed. This helps to calm the brain, making it easier to fall asleep.
- If you need naps during the day then try to keep them short (15–30 minutes). You might not actually sleep in this time, but simply closing your eyes can still be refreshing.
- You don’t need a gym membership to enjoy healthy exercise. There are many phone apps and internet videos that offer workouts without the need for equipment, and that can be completed in just 15 minutes.
- Free yoga videos are also available online, even for beginners. Yoga is a great way to reduce stress, and can improve your sleep and overall energy levels.
- Community centre pools are another great exercise resource, often at no or low cost. Some have aqua-fit classes.
- Many malls open earlier than their stores to accommodate individuals looking to walk around for exercise. If your loved one is in a wheelchair, you could also use this opportunity to take them with you.
- Create a social calendar for yourself and your loved one. Find activities that you can participate in together, but also some that are directed to each of your specific interests. Try to see if the timing of your individual interests can align.
- Join a support group for caregivers. There are also diagnosis-specific support groups for those affected by particular illnesses, both for caregivers and their loved ones.
- Maintain communication with friends and family. Social media is great, but face-to-face time is also critical—even over a video-call.
Caregivers rarely have a typical nine-to-five workday. It therefore comes as no surprise that caregiver burnout is a common problem. However, if you take the time now to not only educate yourself on better understanding caregiver burnout, but also on preventative strategies and available resources, then you can minimize your risk. Caregiving is an endless and challenging responsibility, but it doesn’t have to be done alone. By caring for yourself, you will be better equipped to care for others.