Table of Content
A guide to identifying and managing caregiver stress and burnout
Caregiving is an act of love and kindness. However, there can be moments when it can become taxing and lead to feelings of frustration and resentment. We are a caregiver if we have a family member, friend or patient dependent on us for their needs. It could be a partner with an illness, a child with a disability, or an ailing elderly. In the process of caring for others, it is normal for all of us to experience physical and emotional stress. However, this strain if ignored can negatively affect our health as well as our attitude towards the person receiving our care. We thus need to look out for signs of stress in ourselves and learn to manage them to prevent caregiver burnout from occurring.
What is caregiver burnout?
Burnout is a state of exhaustion, physical, emotional as well as spiritual exhaustion. It is brought on by unrelieved stress. In the context of caring for someone dependent on us, it is caused when we do not manage our stress arising out of caregiving. The symptoms experienced are multiple and we can get easily overwhelmed by stressors other than the caregiving process. It is important to identify the warning signs of caregiving stress and to identify ways to cope with them before it takes a toll on our physical and emotional health. Unresolved caregiving stress can slowly bring about a negative attitude as well as feelings of resentment towards the person we are caring for. But managing it in the early stages can prevent caregiving from becoming a burden.
What are the signs of caregiver burnout?
We need to watch out for changes in ourselves while we are taking care of the person who is dependent on us. It is common to experience some stress in the process of caregiving. But when we start feeling overwhelmed by everyday situations, then we are experiencing burnout. Multiple factors make us vulnerable to experiencing burnout. Having multiple roles to play, financial pressures, poor family dynamics, social isolation, a lot of time being spent caregiving, lack of choice in being a caregiver, our personality, etc. All these collectively can make us experience the following changes in us:
- Increased tiredness
- Excessive or reduced sleep
- Changes in eating habits leading to significant weight gain or loss
- A constant state of worrying and feeling helpless
- Irritability and/or frequent anger outbursts
- Loss of interest or motivation to do things we previously used to enjoy
- Lowered immunity and physical symptoms like frequent headaches or any other bodily aches
- Increase in smoking or drinking alcohol
How do we deal with caregiver burnout?
Once we recognize the symptoms of burnout, it is important to do something about it so that it does not aggravate our physical and emotional health. The following are some pointers for caregiver burnout prevention:
Accept help: Identify specific situations for which help is required and reach out to family, friends, or professionals for the same. Open up to people who care whenever you feel overwhelmed or worried. Say ‘yes’ when someone offers help and do not hesitate.
Accept your feelings: It helps to acknowledge and accept any negative feelings you may be having. Recognize your feelings of guilt, anger, frustration, and resentment. This makes the next step of trying to manage them easier.
Focus on self-care: Prioritize yourself and make time for indulging in activities of interest. Take breaks. It helps to step out of the house with friends or by yourself. Also, prioritize relationships and make time for friends. While focusing on self, work on these three- eat well, sleep well and exercise well.
Set realistic goals: It helps to reorganize priorities and break tasks into smaller chunks of activities. Have a consistent routine and learn to assertively say no to tasks which you do not want to nor have the time to take on.
Be aware of your inner dialogue: Identify unhelpful thoughts which lead to feelings of guilt or resentment towards the person whom you are caring for. Talk to a trusted person about it and try to let go of these unhelpful thoughts.
Learn about the illness/disability: It is good to know more about the illness or condition of the person you are caring for. Knowledge of the same helps in a better understanding of their needs and makes caregiving easier.
Build coping skills: Channelize caregiving stress through healthy and creative pursuits. Consider taking up a new hobby and/or build a support network with similar issues. Use humor to help you cope and take on a lighter perspective to your challenges. Learn relaxation strategies to help you with your anxiety and worries.
Practice self-compassion: It is normal to feel frustrated and angry with the caregiving experience due to the loss of independence and control. But it is necessary to be kind to yourself and understand when to let go of situations that are not in your control. Appreciate yourself and acknowledge your efforts to take care of the person.
Practice acceptance: There will often be moments when we look at the unfairness of the situation. It helps to accept the situations we cannot change rather than struggle with the ‘why?’ Dwelling on the negatives of the situation or on not having any choice in the matter would make us feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Instead, accept and embrace your caregiving choice.
Reach out to a mental health professional: There are people trained to help people going through emotional difficulties occurring as part of the caregiving burden. Talking helps as the counseling sessions will be aimed at building resilience and learning specific strategies to cope with the symptoms of caregiver burnout. We at Cadabam’s hospital have a team of trained counselors and psychologists to offer support for managing your caregiving process and turn it into a rewarding experience.
Dr. Nisha Vidyasagar