Dealing with Caregiver Burnout

Community // December 2, 2016

Over the past month, we’ve been sharing information from various family caregivers, including tips on caregiving and how to be a caregiver when you live far away. In the last post for this series for National Family Caregivers Month, we wanted to deal with an issue that many caregivers face: how to handle burnout.

Burnout is a form of mental anxiety that can manifest in many different ways. Some individuals can become physically exhausted or undernourished because they are so focused on the family member who needs care rather than their own needs, leading to possible medical or other problems. Others may exhibit burnout through emotional changes and verbal indications, such as expressing anger, frustration, or a lack of empathy for the subject of their care.

Burnout is bad for both the caregiver and the person they are caring for, so it’s important to recognize when burnout may be occurring for yourself and take steps to manage it. Even better is knowing the types of things that can lead to burnout and being proactive in preventing the situation from arising in the first place.

We’ve asked some caregivers to provide ideas on how to prevent or handle burnout, and here is what they shared with us.

Plan Your Own Care, Too

A lot of caregivers burn out because they are so busy taking care of their family member that they fail to plan time for themselves. Between scheduling and attending appointments, ensuring medications are taken at the right time, food preparation, cleaning up around the house, and other tasks that need to be completed, it can seem counterintuitive to want to make even more plans – especially if they’re for yourself and not the person you’re caring for.

However, Dr. Marni Amsellem, a clinical psychologist who provides consultation to a number of nationwide caregiving institutions, says that planning care for yourself is just as important as making sure your family member is cared for. “Take breaks, check in with yourself,” Dr. Amsellem says. “Ask for help, and seek support or therapy if you need it.”

The irony is that when it’s hardest to schedule things for yourself, that may be precisely when you need them the most. “Sometimes it is hard for caregivers to get away,” Dr. Amsellem adds. “Fortunately, there are online-based options for caregiver support and individual therapy.”

Find Others Who Can Help

When you’re engrossed in the day-to-day challenges of caregiving, it can sometimes feel like you are carrying a burden all on your own. In such cases, it is important to find others who can help you out.

Rick Lauber, author of The Successful Caregiver’s Guide, says it is important to find others who can help you and delegate work to them. “Caregiving is not a job to be tackled independently, so surround yourself with a support circle and think outside of the box as to who can help to provide care. For example, the youngster living next door to your parents could be hired to shovel the snow of their front sidewalk, or a member of the church congregation could drop in for a friendly visit and provide companion care.”

Even if you can’t find someone to take do some of the heavy lifting, you may still be able to save time, money, and sanity by talking with others about the problems you face as a caregiver. This can be informal, such as a friend who is willing to listen and offer advice when you want or need it, or more formal, such as in a support group. Either way, having someone around to help you out – even if it’s just to bounce ideas off of – is a great way to avoid burnout.

Learn What You Can Control – And Forget the Rest!

When caring for someone else, it can be easy to get caught up in the idea that you need to have everything under control. However, nobody can ever control everything, regardless of whether they are caring for someone else or not. In such cases, it is important to focus only on changing those things you actually have the ability to influence, and letting go of those things you don’t.

“It’s a mindset more than anything,” says Peter Rosenberger from Caregivers with Hope. “I didn’t cause my wife’s condition, nor can I fix it. I do the best I can with the information and resources I have – and recognize and respect my limitations.”

That can be a hard task to achieve, and sometimes it feels like giving up to give in to the idea that you can’t control everything. However, Peter calls such thinking a “landmine” of caregiving that can explode in your face. “It’s not fatalistic, it’s realistic. Once I start down a healthier way of thinking, I am better able to see and utilize the options available for help.”

Share Your Caregiving Burnout Challenges

Being a caregiver has many different challenges, and working to prevent burnout can be an ongoing battle. Have you ever faced burnout as a caregiver? If so, what did you do to prevent or manage it? Share your thoughts on caregiver burnout with us on Facebook or Twitter!