According to AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. report, 53 million Americans served as familial caregivers to adults or children with special health care needs in 2020. That’s an increase of 10 million from 2015.
Caregiving can take an emotional and physical toll on even the most resilient people, leading to health problems and emotional burnout. Learn how to prevent caregiver burnout from negatively affecting your life and your health.
What is caregiver burnout?
As a family caregiver, you manage the medical needs and daily activities for a parent, parent-in-law, spouse, sibling, child or other loved one. These people may have chronic illnesses, developmental disabilities or be unable to care for themselves due to age or impairment.
While rewarding, caregiving can also be emotionally, physically and mentally draining. In your effort to provide the best care possible, you may neglect your own well-being. Your social life may be limited and you may experience financial challenges.
It is normal to feel both positive and negative emotions when providing care for a loved one who is ill. Caregiving may cause you to feel anger, frustration, resentment, isolation and sadness.
It’s common for caregivers to experience these emotions occasionally. But the constant strains of caregiving can cause some people to “burn out.”
Signs of caregiver burnout include:
- Feeling constantly worried or anxious
- Frequent illness, headaches, body pain or unexplained physical problems
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Neglecting your needs and health
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Quick to anger
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Substance misuse, including prescription drugs
- Spending excessive time on the internet
- Difficulty focusing, thinking, or planning—as if your head was filled with fog
- Wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
- Weight and appetite fluctuations
- Withdrawal from friends and family
Impact of caregiver burnout
Caregiver burnout negatively affects you and the person in your care. If caregiver burnout is not addressed, you may not be able to adequately care for your loved one.
Additionally, your own health will suffer. A study published in the Journals of Gerontology found caregivers who felt they were under a lot of strain had poorer health outcomes than those who didn’t.
Preventing caregiver burnout
Take steps to prevent caregiver burnout. Consider these options.
Ask for help or delegate tasks
Asking for help doesn’t make you a bad caregiver. Make a list of your weekly tasks and determine if anyone can lighten your load. Ask your spouse to make dinner or a friend to pick up your dry cleaning or laundry.
Take time for yourself
Give yourself permission to take a break. Visit with friends over coffee. Take a long bath or schedule a relaxing massage. Get up 15 minutes early in the morning and take time for meditation, prayer or a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee.
Keep up with your health
Don’t let your busy schedule be an excuse for skipping your own doctor’s appointments. Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. Taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.
Look into family leave benefits
Many employers offer family leave benefits. Taking advantage of this benefit could reduce your stress for a period of time.
Explore respite care
Some senior living communities offer short-term overnight respite care. Additionally, adult day programs may offer a safe place to those you care for while you run errands or take a break for a few hours.
Know your limits
No one is a perfect caregiver. Do the best you can and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t take on more than you can realistically handle.
Talk to a professional
Mental health counselors, therapists, social workers and clergy can help you process your feelings and emotions and offer coping mechanisms that may help.
Join a support group
Talking with other caregivers is a great way to manage stress, share experiences and find resources within your community. Your local AARP chapter can help you find support groups in your community.
To find a Catholic Health physician near you, call (866) MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362). Learn more about our services across Long Island.