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Beware Of Burnout

Many Caregivers Give Too Much Of Themselves

The focus of family caregivers is to take great care of a loved one. However, as time goes on, a caregiver's energy, productivity and even motivation can wane...though not intentionally.

Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. It is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Every day is a bad day. The exhaustion leads to the caregiver feeling overwhelmed and unable to meet the relentless demands on them. Without realizing it, they can appear cynical, hopeless, and even resentful. In fact, from 40-70% of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression.

The amount of care needed is not the only factor leading to burnout. A person's lifestyle and personality traits also come into play. So it could be that a "do it all myself" caregiver will have to learn to delegate work to others, and then find ways to relax (or not worry) during that time.

Many caregivers learn the hard way that they just can't do it all. When the work piles up a caregiver must find ways to slow down to protect their own well-being.

Warning, Warning

Road To Recovery

Burnout builds over time. Here are some red flags for caregivers to watch out for.

  • Feeling exhausted and drained, even after taking a break or waking in the morning.
  • Seem to catch every cold or flu bug going around.
  • Higher levels of depression.
  • Recurring feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and/or being overwhelmed.
  • Higher levels of frustration, impatience, stress, and/or irritability.
  • Caregiving responsibilities provide little satisfaction or reward.
  • Neglect or delay their own needs.
  • Have poor eating habits and/or do not get sufficient exercise.
  • Medical issues are ignored or postponed.

The symptoms of burnout usually get worse, if left alone. Trying to push through and continue without change will usually lead to more physical and emotional damage. The National Family Caregivers Assn. recommends three steps for stemming the tide and recovering from burnout.

  1. Slow down.This sounds easy, but seldom is. It takes discipline, determination and planning to find ways to relax, take breaks, fulfill your own needs and set boundaries. You may even have to learn to say "no" at times.
  2. Get support. Ask for help and be prepared when someone asks "what can I do?" Take advantage of services in the community. Also, talk to family members and friends. Support groups can be a great help, too.
  3. Reevaluate your goals and priorities. Burnout is a sign of imbalance. Readjust the order of your needs, hopes and desires.
(Sources: Caregiver.org., National Family Caregivers Assn.)