You’ve been caring for your aging parents for a while now, and while you love them and consider it an honor to care for them, you’ve found yourself feeling … off.
It’s a true form of independence that few people want taken away from them, and the idea of it being taken away indicates just how hard our loved-ones are being hit with the fact that they are aging.
Being a caregiver can be a tough role, and you are likely to experience things you never have before. Learning the signs of caregiver burnout is vital to remaining healthy and providing your loved one with the quality care they deserve.
This guide will help you learn to identify symptoms that could indicate burnout and provide you with solutions to help you get through it.
Table of Contents
What Causes Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout happens — even to the best of caregivers — no matter how much you love the person you are caring for. One survey found that over 60% of caregivers experienced symptoms that could indicate burnout.
For a caregiver, especially a family member or longtime friend, the temptation to neglect self-care can be incredibly strong — and it often leads to caregiver burnout. Caregivers often spend so much time caring for others that they forget to pause and check in with themselves.
Some other leading causes of caregiver burnout include:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Most caregivers expect the work they do will positively impact their loved one. Some even expect to be able to improve their condition or quality of life. In some cases, this is a relatively reasonable expectation to have. However, in many cases — for instance, loved ones with progressive diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s — this isn’t true, and the added strain can take a toll on caregivers.
- Unrealistic demands
- Sometimes someone needs more care than any in-home caregiver — especially one without proper training — can provide. Tasks can stack up, and the load can become too heavy for them to carry healthily. When someone needs consistent and extensive care, it can be hard for a caregiver to provide such care outside a proper facility.
- Role Confusion
- Especially when the new role is sudden, caregivers can struggle to keep relationships in their life separate. They may struggle to separate the role of caregiver from the roles of parent, spouse, or friend.
- Lack of control
- From fast-draining finances to aggressively progressing symptoms, caregivers may find themselves feeling like they don’t have control over much of anything. This feeling can lead to perceived helplessness, which can lead to burnout.
Caregivers need to identify when the current situation is no longer working for them, and they need to take a step back and look at alternative options, such as assisted living.
At Senior Services of America, we know the struggle caregivers face when they realize they’ve hit burnout. It isn’t easy to admit you’re struggling to care for a loved one. We are here to walk you through options and help you find a solution that works with and for you to meet both your and your loved one’s needs
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout has both physical and mental signs, and you should familiarize yourself with both.
Physical Warning Signs of Caregiver Burnout
What are the signs of caregiver burnout? There are many.
Our bodies often physically react when we are burned out, and it is important to know the physical signs of caregiver burnout before you experience them.
Some typical signs your body might display include:
- Body aches and pains
- Loss of appetite
- Poor sleep
- Frequent illness
Persistent Body Aches or Pains
You’re not sure why, but you feel like you’ve had the flu for the past month. Sure, you haven’t had a fever or most of the other symptoms, but the constant body aches and pains are getting to you.
You can’t put a finger on why you always seem to hurt, but you do know it won’t go away.
You feel like you live off ibuprofen at this point. No matter what you do, you have a persistent headache that refuses to let up. You’re not sure why it’s there, and you can’t make it leave.
Loss of Appetite
No matter how hard you try to eat, you aren’t hungry. Or you get something to eat and immediately feel as if you don’t want it. You might even feel as if your body is just too tired for food.
Once upon a time, you used to pride yourself on your ability to sleep anywhere. Now, even though you are tucked perfectly into your bed with prime sleeping conditions, you can’t seem to fall asleep. What’s worse is that, once you finally do, you never wake up feeling rested.
You used to have an immune system of steel, but these days, you seem to catch every cold that comes near you. You’re beginning to feel like you drink more Nyquil than water.
Mental Warning Signs of Caregiver Burnout
Signs of caregiver burnout aren’t always just physical. You may find yourself experiencing mental symptoms as well.
The most common mental signs of caregiver burnout include:
- Feelings of depression
- Low energy
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Neglecting your needs — physical and psychological
You’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of person, but these days, you just can’t seem to find the bright side. Your energy is low, and the motivation to climb out of bed in the morning is virtually non-existent.
You wake up and your first thought is, “I can’t wait to go to bed tonight.” No matter how much sleep you get, you always feel like you need another 16 hours.
Lack of Energy
Gone are the days of chasing your kids around a local park or going hiking with your friends. Lately, just walking upstairs to your bedroom has felt like running a marathon.
Lack of Interest and Activities You Usually Enjoy
There was a time when a good book and a cup of tea could turn around a bad day. Maybe you used to love painting or going to the movies with friends.
Now, the thought of doing any of these things leaves you with indifference. You just don’t really want to enjoy it anymore.
Neglecting Physical and Psychological Needs
You know that you should take a shower. You’re fully aware that you should probably spend a few quiet minutes by yourself today, but you simply don’t feel that you have the time or effort it will take. You’re not sure when you last washed your hair, and you’re beginning to wonder if you still know how to cook.
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
If you don’t pay attention to the warning signs and early symptoms, more serious issues can occur.
Burnout can have serious implications if left unchecked. If you ignore the early signs, you may find yourself experiencing:
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Lowered immunity and increased susceptibility to illness
- Fatigue and exhaustion to the point that it impacts your ability to function
In some cases, severe caregiver burnout can lead to feeling like you want to hurt yourself or, in some cases, the person you care for. The most severe cases of caregiver burnout may lead to suicidal ideation or actions.
If you’re wrestling with hopelessness and feeling like you want to harm yourself or someone else, you aren’t alone, and you deserve the support and care that you need. You can always call 988 to talk to a trained crisis worker who will listen to you without judgment and help you find a solution.
Three Stages of Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes small, seemingly insignificant stressors can pile up and lead to burnout.
There are three main stages caregivers may go through:
- Caregiver stress
- Caregiver burnout
- Compassion fatigue
#1 Caregiver Stress
When different factors collide, caregivers may experience what is known as caregiver stress. This is a stronger, more aggressive stress experience than you might experience day-in-day-out, and it typically includes many of the early warning signs mentioned earlier.
Caregiver stress has many triggers. Several common roots of caregiver stress include:
- Realizing that the care you can provide simply isn’t enough
- Watching your loved one’s condition inevitably worsen
- Not seeing any progress from the person you are caring for
- Not taking the time to care for yourself and ensuring you are getting what you need
#2 Caregiver Burnout
f the signs of caregiver stress are ignored or it’s already advanced, you might find yourself experiencing caregiver burnout.
At this stage, many people find themselves feeling exhausted and unable to care for or about their loved one as much as they would like to. Caregivers caught up in burnout will likely find that their own health is declining, and they no longer have the same capacity they used to enjoy.
#3 Compassion Fatigue
f burnout goes unchecked, it may lead to compassion fatigue.
These two things look a good bit alike, but the difference between caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue is that compassion fatigue leads caregivers to feel a weakened sense of empathy for the person they are caring for.
Those battling compassion fatigue may find that they feel like they don’t have the capacity to love or genuinely care about the person in their care, no matter their relationship.
You might be stuck in compassion fatigue if you find yourself with:
- Decreased patience
- Low tolerance for your loved ones’ idiosyncrasies or needs
- Sudden, emotional, and potentially volatile outbursts that are out of character for you
- Thoughts of harming yourself or even the person in your care
Compassion fatigue is incredibly serious, and the signs and symptoms should never be ignored.
Even the best caregivers can find themselves in seasons of compassion fatigue, and it is vital that you take the time to heal, both for yourself and your loved one.
Tips to Overcoming — and Preventing — Caregiver Burnout When You Start To See the Signs
If you’re already seeing signs of …
- Caregiver stress
- Caregiver burnout; or
- Compassion fatigue
… don’t lose heart. There are steps you can take to overcome all three of these.
If you aren’t experiencing any of the symptoms or warning signs, that’s great, and there are things you can do to ensure you remain a healthy caregiver.
How to prevent caregiver burnout:
- Make self-care a priority — for you and your loved one.
- Get support — Find a support group or connect with other caregivers.
- Know your limits — Know when you need to take a step back to ask for help.
- Ask for help — When you identify something you can’t handle alone, bring in backup and ask for support.
- Use available resources — Consider adding in-home care specialists, meal deliveries, and other resources to your loved one’s care team.
- Set realistic goals and expectations — Know what your loved one is capable of and be aware of what they may lose as time goes on. Don’t set goals that will disappoint you and them.
How to overcome caregiver burnout:
- Take a step back — Find someone who can step in and care for your loved one while you take a breather.
- Get support — Whether it be through a local support group or even a therapist, find a safe space to talk about your feelings and experiences.
- Practice self-care — Chances are it’s been a while since you checked in with yourself. Reinstate that morning run and start cooking your favorite healthy meals again. Take time to get your nails done or hit the golf course with friends.
- Talk to your doctor — If your mental or physical health has declined, talk with your doctor about how you can regain health.
- Consider alternatives — In some cases, it might be time to start thinking about a new care solution. Start looking into solutions like in-home care and assisted living. Remember that, even if they aren’t huge on the idea at first, your loved one’s best option might be a care facility.
Senior Services of America: Providing Seniors With Community, Care, and Compassion
Being a caregiver is tough, and no matter how good you are or how much you love the person in your care, caregiver burnout is real. Sometimes you need outside help.
That’s where Senior Services of America comes in.
We offer premier assisted living communities where your loved one will find superior care and genuine compassion.
We offer various living solutions for your loved one, ranging from independent living with available aid as needed to high-level care memory care facilities.
Whether you’re looking for help with yard work and some cooking and housekeeping, or you need full-on personal care, Senior Services of America has a solution for you.
Find a community today and offer your loved one the best assisted living experience there is.