What is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiving can be very taxing! Taking care of a family member or friend can take a toll on your physical and mental health, even if you are a resilient person. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, but it is important to make sure you do not drive yourself to a burnout. We put together information that can identify if you are on your way to a burnout, what you can do to prevent it, and how to cope with the challenges that come with caregiving.

What is Caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout can be described as emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion caused by the stresses that come with caregiving. This often comes after a long period of time of taking care of an individual. Caregivers can be responsible for many tasks such as scheduling appointments, making sure the person they are taking care of is taking their medication, and helping with basic needs. Caregivers can feel discouraged and can feel like their situation is bleak with no solution.

Is burnout the same as stress?

They both have an effect on an individual, but burnout is more acute than stress. Symptoms of stress can include anxiety, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, change in eating habits, and irritability. Burnout symptoms are more severe and debilitating. Having a burnout is your body’s way of telling you that it needs attention, that it is feeling overwhelmed. It can be easy to ignore stress and burnout symptoms when caring for someone, but it is likely to catch up with you eventually, if you don’t pay attention.

What are the symptoms of burnout?

The following are common symptoms of caregiver burnout:

1) You have significantly less energy than you used to

2) You are more susceptible to catching common illnesses like a cold or the flu

3) You often experience fatigue even when you take a nap or relax

4) You neglect your own needs

5) The majority of your life revolves around caregiving, and it gives you little satisfaction

6) You experience difficulty relaxing and finding enjoyment

7) You are more easily irritable and impatient, especially with the person you care for

8) Increased feelings of helplessness and hopelessness

What can you do to prevent caregiver burnout?

There are many ways you can take care of yourself—the trick is to actually do it! Here are some ways you can take care of yourself and prevent caregiver burnout:

1) Celebrate the small things: Sometimes caregiving can become overwhelming, but by focusing on the small things (and small victories!) you can create a more positive mindset, which will help diminish negative feelings.

2) Have something that belongs to you: Even though it might be difficult, make sure you take up a hobby or an activity that is not related to caregiving. Having this allows you to step out of the role of caregiver into something that belongs completely and entirely to you. It is important to not lose your sense of self or your identity, and participating in a hobby helps maintain that.

3) Ask for help: There is nothing wrong with saying “I need a helping hand”. Reach out to friends and family who can provide you with support. They can help with tasks around the house, run some errands, or even simply be a listening ear. Whatever you need, someone can help you.

4) Step out of the house: Sometimes going for a walk to take a breath and clear your mind can do wonders. Walk around the block, or sit outside for a few minutes. Take a few moments in an environment that is not related to caregiving.

5) Reward yourself: You work hard! Give yourself a pat on the back. Eat your favourite snack. Buy a new book. Watch that movie you’ve wanted to see for a while. Whatever it is, give yourself a reward that will please you.

6) Take care of your body: Putting an importance on the number of hours you sleep and the types of food you eat are crucial in maintaining a healthy body and mind. If it seems to be intimidating at first, try working on small things and then doing more and more as time goes by. Small steps every day make it easier and easier.

AMI-Quebec holds support groups for families and friends of people living with mental illness three times a month. Click here for more information.

For more resources on family support, click here.

— Gabrielle Lesage

Please click here for references.

As seen in the Winter 2020 newsletter.