The Burden of Caring: How to Deal with Caregiver Stress and Burnout
You might recognize a normal period of anxiety and sleeplessness that follows a newborn baby’s first year – many books and greeting cards even joke about it! But most babies change and grow quickly, and many new parents are given a lot of help and support. But what if that baby remains developmentally delayed for a lifetime? What if a beloved family member loses their memory or mobility, and needs care for years – even decades – to come? These are just a couple of the many situations that can lead to caregiver stress, which is a chronic and long-term type of emotional and physical stress, or even burnout. When you’re burned out, it’s tough to do anything, let alone look after someone else. That’s why taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.
What Are The Symptoms of Caregiver Stress?
- Difficulty sleeping or being constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
- Overreacting to or being overwhelmed by what used to be “small” problems
- New or worsening health or pain issues; It seems like you catch every cold that’s going around
- Trouble concentrating or relaxing, even when help is available
- Feeling increasingly resentful toward your loved one or other family members who “should” help
- Drinking alcohol, smoking, or eating more (or sometimes, not eating enough)
- Cutting back on social activities because you have less time and energy than you once had
- Nervousness and irritability
The Caregiving Trap: Are You at Risk?
Feeling powerless is the number one contributor to caregiver stress. It’s an easy trap to fall into as a caregiver, especially if you feel stuck in a role you didn’t expect. But no matter the situation, you aren’t powerless. This is especially true when it comes to your state of mind. The people most at risk for caregiver stress are often female. A typical example is an unmarried woman who stayed close to her parents’ home and put her own career and education on hold because someone had to do it. However, many sons also care for parents for decades, and some adult children are balancing the needs of their own families and their aging parents as well. Anyone who has been caregiving for an extended period of time without expectation of compensation, and without any knowledge of when the caring will end, is at risk.
Taking Care of the Caregiver
Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, focus on the way you choose to react to problems. Feeling appreciated can go a long way toward accepting a stressful situation. Try making a list of all the ways your caregiving is making a positive difference. Remember, positive reinforcement doesn’t have to come from the person you’re caring for. When you’re feeling unappreciated, you may want to turn to trusted friends or a professional therapist, who will listen to you and acknowledge your efforts. Counseling can also help you with perspective and setting up a plan for self-care.
Don’t try to take on all of the responsibilities of caregiving without regular breaks. When people ask, “How can I help?” Tell them! Enlist friends who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or sit with your loved one so you can take a break. You may have to speak up for yourself. Delegate some of your responsibilities if you are able. If siblings don’t live nearby, let them know their financial assistance may be needed so you can pay a professional caregiver. If you do get help, you may have to acknowledge that you will also have to give up some control. A professional counselor or caregiver support group is a great way to get guidance and validation for your efforts. Look into your local health system as to what resources are available or contact Deepwater Counseling to learn more about how therapy can help you learn to navigate the caregiving journey.