Worried about being burnt-out.

I am worried that I am starting to have caregiver burnout.  I have heard this term in the past, but not really sure what it is or how to stop it.  Can you please tell to me about it?


Hi Mel:

I am glad that you are taking time to think about yourself and your well-being.  As caregivers, we often become so consumed with our work and our role that we forget about how important our own health and happiness is.  Let’s take a look at some of the issues:

Caregiver Burnout Warning Signs

You may be burning out if you are:

  • More easily frustrated or irritated. You lose your temper faster. You explode or overreact to minor issues. You snap at everyone over anything.
  • Depressed and anxious
  • Feeling sad and alone.
  • Always worrying. It could be financial issues or thinking things will never change. Have you turned into a “Worry Wart”?
  • Lacking energy and are feeling run down or always exhausted
  • Feeling guilty that either you should be doing more or knowing that you are neglecting others in your life, including yourself
  • Resenting your caregiving duties or the person receiving your care
  • Thinking of ways to harm your care recipient.
  • Getting sick. You don’t take care of yourself. You are missing your own appointments, including regular doctor and dentist appointments
  • Participating less in regular physical exercise
  • Having trouble focusing or concentrating and feeling overwhelmed
  • Crying excessively
  • Experiencing decreased self-worth or self-confidence
  • Using too much alcohol, food, or other substances
  • Neglecting responsibilities. Perhaps you are too overwhelmed to file taxes or take care of your pets. What is that growing in your refrigerator?
  • Spending less time with your own friends and family and becoming more socially isolated
  • Getting sick more often. Perhaps your immune system is compromised
  • Always tired and having trouble sleeping. Perhaps you are sleeping too much
  • Noticing that you can’t or don’t take the time to relax
  • Feeling trapped. The situation is helpless and hopeless. Nothing will ever be better
  • Having weight changes – either up or down. Why is the mirror, no longer my friend?


Preventing Caregiver Burnout:

  1. Call a friend. Set up a regular schedule with someone with whom you can enjoy a quick conversation (either on-line or on the phone). Doing this regularly for 15 minute will boost your spirits.
  2. Become more knowledgeable about the medical issues you are dealing with, how better take care of yourself and how to improve your caregiving skills. Remember, it just not socially acceptable to be known as an ostrich with their head in the sand.
  3. Ask for help. You cannot sustain caregiving on your own. It takes a village to truly care give well. Develop your village.
  4. Accept help. Don’t think you are the only person who cares. The care offered by others may not be exactly the way you would do something. Who knows, it might even be better than what you are doing.  You might actually learn something from others.
  5. Set boundaries. Don’t let caregiving consume you. It can be a bottomless pit and ruin everything in your life (including relationships, quality of life, careers and happiness).  Set limits to what you can do well.  Remember Nancy Reagan’s favorite expression: “Just say no”.  Try it, it just might work.
  6. Communicate. You need to let your family, friends and the medical personnel that you deal with know what you need and what you are prepared to do. Life is all about setting expectations. Clearly let people know what they can expect from you.  Add some humour to what you need from others.  Say something like:  Look, I only have two hands, I need eight.  I am not an octopus.
  7. Be Social. Staying social is a key to your sanity. It will help you have greater balance in your life. Even meeting a friend for coffee will lift your spirits and bring greater perspective to your caregiving. Staying social will be a sure way to bring more laughter into your life.
  8. Find Support Groups. Look for them both on-line and in your community. They are great ways to gain peer support, learn about local resources and they remind you know that you are not alone
  9. Escape when you can. Surviving caregiving requires that you find ways to take breaks. Look for local respite services that can relieve you for an hour or even a half-day once a week.  Investigate adult day care centres and seniors’ home that accept short term stays for care recipients.  On your way out to escape, don’t look back.  Just keep going.

I often thinks fondly of the wonderful TV ad from a major home furnishings retailer with the lady loaded down with bags, running out of the store, screaming to her husband:  “Start the Car,            Start the Car”  That is what escaping for a caregiver feels like.

  1. Take care of yourself. Caregiving is a journey; it may last for many years. Remember to take care of your health. If you don’t take care of yourself, chances are someone will be taking care of you. That would be even scarier than being a caregiver.

Make sure to:

  • Eat well
  • Get enough sleep
  • Do some daily physical exercise
  • Don’t over eat or drink
  1. It is better to give than receive. Give some of your caregiver responsibilities to others. See if there are local services or family and friends who can help share the caregiving. Don’t take on more work than you can handle.
  2. Get Organized. Create a system to manage medical appointments, pay bills, buy groceries and medical products. Buy colourful, cheerful binders, note pads and sticky notes with happy faces and funny expressions.
  3. It’s all about me. Can you image a caregiver saying that? Think about what you need and act on it at least one hour a day. This daily commitment to yourself requires planning and then maximizing your “self-time”.  This may be an extra-long bath, getting a pedicure or just watching something on TV.  Whatever it is, it is happening because you planned for it.
  4. Try saying “Really?” This is a great way to deal with things that you don’t agree with at all. Instead of arguing, say “Really?” with a smile and see the reaction you get. A simple word and a smile goes a long way to helping control a situation.  Try it, really.

I hope that my ideas are of value to you Mel.  Why not take some of my ideas and create your own plan to fight caregiver burnout.  A plan that helps you recognize the signs of burnout and ways to prevent it.


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