Over 40 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. look after elderly, ill, or disabled loved ones. Almost half experience long-term emotional or physical stress, and many more occasional doubts about their ability to cope or maintain their own health. Caregiver stress syndrome is a widely recognized condition that has been studied by psychologists and other healthcare researchers.
Caregiver burnout occurs when caregiver stress syndrome isn’t identified and managed. When caregivers burn out, their health and the people they care for are at risk, so it’s vitally important that caregivers and their families know what burnout looks like.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is mental and physical exhaustion. After enduring the stresses of caregiving, the caregiver is no longer willing or able to cope. They don’t love the person they care for any less, but their condition means that they can no longer effectively care for them.
Burned-out caregivers may feel anxiety, depression, resentment, and anger—or they may feel nothing at all. Emotional numbness, often called flat affect, is common. Caregivers may want to look after their loved ones and themselves, but they can’t summon the necessary energy and motivation. Burnout is frequently associated with guilt and self-reproach because caregivers feel that they are letting down their family and the person in their care.
The unfortunate consequence of burnout is a reduction in the quality of care. In the worst cases, vulnerable people are neglected to the point they begin to suffer or their health declines.
What Does Caregiver Burnout Feel Like?
If you’re a caregiver, you are the best judge of your emotional state. You may be tempted to ignore stress symptoms, but no one can cope indefinitely under excess pressure. It’s better to identify the problem and manage it early.
Let’s look at some of the emotions and behaviors you might experience if you are approaching burnout.
- You feel unusual anxiety and depression: We are all different, and our “usual” emotional state may include some degree of anxiety and depression. But a significant increase in negative emotions and moods can be a sign of burnout.
- You are more forgetful or careless than usual: Do you find that you forget to carry out routine tasks, especially care or treatment-related tasks?
- You are easily irritated: Frustrations, obstacles, or people that you would once have easily coped with, make you angry or upset.
- You feel tired, but you struggle to sleep: Insomnia is a common consequence of excessive stress and burnout.
- You are beginning to feel resentful: It is perfectly normal to feel some amount of resentment or dissatisfaction when you are overloaded, but you may want to make changes to your schedule or get some help if you begin to resent the person you care for or your family.
On any given day, you might feel one or more of these. If they are transitory, you could just be having a bad day. But if you experience the symptoms of burnout over a prolonged period, don’t ignore them.
Is a Family Caregiver You Know Close to Burnout?
Caregivers are often unwilling to acknowledge that they are struggling to cope, especially if they are the primary caregiver for a loved one. They may feel that no one else is willing or capable of sharing their burden or that admitting to burning out is a sign they are “bad” or “weak.”
Family and friends can help by keeping an eye out for signs that a caregiver isn’t coping well with the stress:
- A lack of communication with friends and family: Burned-out caregivers often stop communicating with people in their support network. They may become disconnected from their friends and family, stop attending social events, and give up hobbies or interests that they once enjoyed.
- Neglecting physical and emotional health: The depression and anxiety of burnout can sap a caregiver’s motivation to take care of their own physical and mental needs, as well as those of the person they care for. They may stop exercising, maintaining their appearance, or spending time on personal hygiene.
- Being easily upset and angered: Overstressed or burned-out caregivers may react irritably to simple questions about their life or their care recipient’s wellbeing. They may also be easily upset by small setbacks that they would once have taken in their stride.
In this article, we have looked at what burnout is and what it looks like. In future articles, we will share some techniques for avoiding burnout and coping when you feel you can no longer care for your loved one effectively.
Additional Resources to Assist with Elder Care
It is important to know there are resources available to help you with caring for your loved ones at home. It is important you don’t let yourself as a caregiver reach a point of burnout. Trustworthycare.com offers a detailed list of resources to assist with elder and geriatric care. Also, check in with the eldercare locator, a resource put together by the Administration for Community Living to find resources in your community.
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