Setting aside time for yourself can fend off burnout before it happens.
Burnout is a risk for anyone who experiences high levels of stress at their job. For roles that ensure the well-being of another person—such as for caregivers—that risk may be especially high.
“Caregivers feel stressed out, unhappy, angry at their loved ones, sad, afraid, lonely,” says Nathan E. Goldstein, MD, palliative care specialist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. “Those are all normal reactions to be having to the stress of caregiving.”
Without an outlet, that stress can lead to burnout. Caregiver burnout is when long-term stress builds up and you feel like you can’t meet the constant demands of caring for someone with a medical condition.
When you have caregiver burnout, you start to lose motivation, and your own health deteriorates. You might feel “trapped” in your role, and your compassion toward the care recipient might start to slip. You may find yourself overreacting to small accidents, resenting or even neglecting your loved one, or showing signs of depression.
Factors That Lead to Caregiver Burnout
By nature, people who are caregivers for a loved one with a medical condition tend to be selfless and compassionate. This can make them prone to forgetting to take care of themselves.
Caregiving can also be demanding and overwhelming. Caregivers might struggle with:
- Losing personal time to socialize or pursue their hobbies
- Feeling grief while watching the changes to the care recipient’s health and personality
- Balancing caregiving with other roles (as a parent, spouse, or employee)
- Getting enough sleep or relaxation
- Managing finances if they are not working or are working less
- Feeling overwhelmed, incompetent, or unappreciated
- Or blaming themselves if the care recipient’s health shows no improvement.
Tips to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
“If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to take care of your loved one,” says Dr. Goldstein. It doesn’t help you or your loved one if you think of yourself as a martyr.
To cope with caregiver stress, keep the following tips in mind:
- Exercise regularly. If possible, find ways to include the care recipient.
- Stay involved in hobbies or find new activities you enjoy.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Journal the day-to-day progression of your loved one’s symptoms. Journaling “is a focused way of sharing the progression of what’s happening with the patient, and also identifying the areas you need help with,” says Theresa Altilio, ACSW, LCSW, clinical social worker at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
- Meditate or find other stress-relief techniques.
- Get support from friends, family, neighbors, volunteers, or professional services. Look for people who can fill in while you take breaks, or for people whom you can vent to and confide in.
- Take breaks. Try and get “moments of relaxation, where even if you just take five minutes, that that can be very helpful in terms of replenishing,” says Altilio.
- Manage your expectations and stay realistic, which can help prevent perfectionism and frustration.
- Become informed about your loved one’s condition so you know what to expect.
- Keep up with your own doctor appointments.
- Consider seeking out a therapist or support group.
Even if it feels selfish, prioritizing yourself sometimes is good for both you and the care recipient. Putting up with burnout too long can make symptoms worse, so being proactive about managing stress can have long-term benefits.
Nathan E. Goldstein, MD, is a professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
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I think whatever feelings you're having,
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the most important thing to
remember is that they're normal.
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Caregivers feel stressed out, unhappy,
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angry at their loved ones,
sad, afraid, lonely.
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Those are all normal reactions to be
having to the stress of caregiving.
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The most important thing is to realize
that these emotions are completely normal
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and that you talk to people about
the feelings that you're having.
00:00:26,574 --> 00:00:32,242
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Caregivers can get burned out for
lots of reasons.
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It's the physical toll of caring for
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someone, whether it's the day-to-day
hands-on care for someone at home.
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Or if they're in the hospital, it's
the coming back and forth every day and
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spending long days in the hospital.
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It's asking all the questions.
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It's the long hours of caring for
your loved one.
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And then, of course, the general stress,
emotional sadness, and
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fears about going through a serious
illness with a loved one.
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There's a whole literature
around caregiver burnout.
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And when you look at it, it talks about
things like taking care of yourself,
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making sure that you're eating,
making sure that you do some exercise.
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The idea possibly of moments of
relaxation, where even if you just take
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five minutes, that that can be very
helpful in terms of replenishing.
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If you don't take care of yourself,
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you're not gonna be able to
take care of your loved one.
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So if you have questions,
or concerns, or fears, or
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you're just not happy with the care
that your loved one is getting,
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you should talk to a member of the health
care team and ask those questions.
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The information that
a caregiver has about a patient,
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the doctor will never be able to capture.
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Or the care team, it's not just a doctor,
oftentimes it's care team,
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not be able to capture in the 10 or
15 minutes they spent together.
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So keeping a diary, a journal
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of some of the things that happen with
the person I think is really useful.
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Because it's a focused way
of sharing the progression
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of what's happening with the patient.
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And also identifying the areas that you
need help with that people often forget
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when they go to the doctor's office
because the time is limited.
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And not only is the time limited, but
often people are anxious when they go
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the doctor's office, so
stuff goes right out the window.
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The biggest concern that we see is when
caregivers don't take any breaks at all
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and are with patients all
the time in the hospital.
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And there can be consequences
to not taking care of yourself.
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Sometimes that we see that caregivers
may forget to give medications,
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they may forget things like
scheduling doctor's appointments.
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And so not taking care of yourself can
have serious consequences on the patient,
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as well as on your own long-term health.
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Caregiving. Chicago, IL: Alzheimer’s Association. (Accessed on April 12, 2021 at https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving.)
Respite care. Chicago, IL: Alzheimer’s Association. (Accessed on April 12, 2021 at https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/care-options/respite-care.)
Symptoms of caregiver burnout. Washington, DC: The ALS Association. (Accessed on April 12, 2021 at http://web.alsa.org/site/PageNavigator/Symptoms_of_Caregiver_Burnout.html)What is caregiver burnout? Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on April 12, 2021 at https://www.stroke.org/-/media/files/health-topics/answers-by-heart/what-is-caregiver-burnout.pdf?la=en )