Understanding & Preventing Caregiver Burnout

March 2, 2020

As a specialist in caregiver stress, I see LOTS of caregivers struggling with burnout.  They often tell me that they are struggling with mild anxiety and depression, but they don’t understand why.  I hear things like “I’ve never been so stressed out before.  I’ve always been in control of my emotions.  I’ve always had a handle on things. Now I can’t seem to get a grip!  Everything overwhelms me!”

What these caregivers are struggling with, often for the first time in their lives, are the effects of chronic stress – also known as burnout.  Burnout is defined as “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.”

In addition to the financial and physical stress associated with being a caregiver, there are several emotional factors that can easily lead to burnout.  Caregivers may be so preoccupied with the care of their loved one(s) that they don’t attend to their own needs until they reach a point of emotional and physical exhaustion.

The signs and symptoms of burnout often include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Chronic Irritability
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Animosity towards your loved one
  • A lack of empathy or caring for your loved one
  • Frequent, intense fantasies of escaping from the caregiving role
  • Angry outbursts towards your loved one
  • Verbal or sometimes physical abuse towards your loved one
  • Neglect of your loved one

If several of these signs and symptoms seem all too familiar to you, it’s probably time to make some changes to your routine.  Let’s talk about ways you can shift your mindset about caregiving and ease the burden on yourself:

First and foremost, preventing burnout involves being committed to your own self-care.  This means allowing yourself the time and space to be “off duty”.  Take more time for your own self-care, such as socializing with friends, exercise and physical activity, alone time, engaging in hobbies, and going on small excursions.  Engage the services of loved ones, friends or professional caregivers to ease the burden on you.  You may also consider respite care in an Assisted Living or Long-Term Care Facility to give yourself “a vacation”.
There are several federal, state, and county programs that can provide assistance with the cost of placing a loved one or getting professional care in home.  But often, most caregivers struggle with the guilt of asking family and friends for help, getting professional help in the home, or especially with placement in a facility.

Knowing when it is appropriate to place your loved one in a facility (Assisted Living or Skilled Nursing) is crucial for minimizing burnout.  Placement of a loved one is a decision often fraught with a lot of conflicting emotions, such as guilt, grief, and sadness.  Recognizing one’s own limitations as a caregiver and the signs / symptoms of burnout can make this decision easier.  Loving someone and being totally responsible for someone are two very different things.

Lastly, there is no shame in recognizing that you are in over your head.  Requesting the help of a mental health professional or caregiver expert can often result in rapid and sustained improvements in mood, anxiety, and quality of life – for both the caregiver and their loved one!

About the Author:
Angelo Domingo, Psy.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist who has a passion for Caregivers. He has a private practice in Sarasota, FL where he helps patients and their loved ones using a combination of Cognitive-Behavioral, Compassion-Focused and Interpersonal Therapies. He facilitates several support groups as well, including one at Parkinson Place the 3rd Thursday of each month 11am-12:30.


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