Caregiver burnout is a very real condition, defined by Cleveland Clinic as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion” caused by the stresses and responsibilities of caring for ill patients or loved ones, often at the expense of their own health and well-being. Burnout occurs when caregivers do not receive the help they need or take on more caregiving responsibilities than they can handle alone.
In 2020, more health care workers and home caregivers are experiencing record-high levels of burnout and stress than ever before. Our frontline workers – doctors, nurses, hospitalists and aides – are providing care for COVID-19 patients in overcrowded hospitals and nursing homes. Behind the scenes, people are caring for ill loved ones and family members at home while also juggling working and family responsibilities.
Now more than ever, we need to make sure our caregivers – both health care workers and at-home care providers – are receiving the support and assistance they need to get through this trying time. If you or a loved one is a caregiver, learn how to recognize burnout and read our tips for prevention.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout
To resolve caregiver burnout, the first and most important step we can take is learning to recognize burnout symptoms in ourselves or our loved ones. In many cases, signs are similar to those for depression, anxiety or stress. If you’re a caregiver yourself, or if you’re close to a caregiver, be on the lookout for the following signs:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that once brought joy
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Difficulty sleeping or difficulty getting up
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Feeling fatigued or run down
- Feeling irritable, impatient or resentful toward a caregiving charge
6 Tips to Cope with Stress and Avoid Burnout
If you’re a frontline health care worker caring for COVID-19 patients, or an at-home caregiver caring for a loved one, the following tips can help you avoid burnout and find more balance in your life.
- Prioritize self-care. Remember that your life consists of more than caregiving. Take time for yourself to read a book, work in the garden, see friends for coffee, practice yoga, take a long, relaxing bath or do other activities that bring you joy. Dealing with the stresses and frustrations of caring for an ill patient or loved one is more manageable when you have an outlet to turn to for relief. If you consistently put self-care on the back burner, start scheduling time on your calendar every day to invest in yourself. Even a 20-minute break to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and the newspaper can do wonders to reinvigorate your energy and mindset.
- Practice acceptance. Feeling sorry for yourself, casting blame or harping on the unfairness of life can lead you down a rabbit hole of negative emotions. Practice accepting your situation and pouring your energy into the tasks and outcomes you can control.
- Seek out the positive. At times, caregiving can be an emotionally draining and thankless task. When the going gets rough, remember (and maybe even write down) all the positive reasons behind your choice to be a caregiver. Deeply rooted motivations – to help others, to repay someone who once cared for you, to make sure a loved one is well cared for – can help you pull through times when you feel burdened by your choice.
- Ask for help. If you need help, ask for it – from close friends, family members, church members or your employers. Remember that it takes a village, and when you do not reach out and ask for assistance, your village may not know you need it. You are not a burden to your loved ones; they are ready to offer support, whether you need someone to pick up groceries for you or someone to sit with your caregiving charge for a few hours while you take a nap. Additionally, do not be afraid to speak up to your church, a support group or your employers to find resources for childcare, transportation, home assistance or a more flexible schedule.
- Talk to someone. All too often, caregivers feel guilty or ashamed of expressing anger, sadness, and resentment in relation to their role as a caregiver. Many caregivers believe they are not allowed to feel unhappy because they are healthy while a loved one or patient is not. However, caregiving is a stressful and deeply emotional task, and any feelings that arise out of that responsibility are perfectly valid. Talking to a close friend, spiritual advisor, counselor or support group can help you come to terms with your feelings and learn how to cope with them. Additionally, you may be surprised by how much a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on can help you feel heard and validated.
- Take care of yourself. You cannot fill someone else’s tank if your own is empty. Incorporate healthy foods, regular exercise and adequate sleep into your life. When you feel strong, clear-headed and rested, you’ll be more prepared to handle the daily stresses and responsibilities of caregiving.
Contact Advanced Care Hospitalists to Learn More
ACH is a Lakeland-based hospitalist group providing comprehensive patient care in community hospitals across Central Florida. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, services, providers or becoming a partner facility, please call us at 863-816-5884 or fill out a contact form online.