It is 6 am and your alarm clock is signaling the start of your day. There is no snooze option for you. Long before anyone else in your home wakes up, this is your time to get ready for the day. Shower, change, tidy up and get the day organized in your head. Hopefully, you can sneak in a hot cup of coffee before the hectic daily routine begins. For many caregivers this is the only time they have for themselves. Hardly quality time, but it is quiet, and no one needs your attention. Caregiving looks different for each person, but it is no less exhausting. As you give selflessly of yourself, slowly this takes a toll on your body both physically, and mentally. In addition to your role as caregiver you may also hold a job, help kids with homework, housekeeping, cooking, and shopping. How do you find time for a life yourself? This lifestyle is not sustainable. Eventually the demands of day to day life leads to what is called caregiver burnout.
Defining caregiver burnout
Caregiver burnout is when you experience physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that impacts your mood, behavior, and attitude from a positive to negative outlook. It usually is a result of taking on too much by yourself, not having access to resources for help, and financial stressors. Often people experiencing this type of burnout express symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, stress, and guilt.
How does this happen?
Caregivers are often so focused on making sure that another person’s needs are met that they forget that everything they are doing for that person; they need to do for themselves. They need to look after their own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health equally. Remember, life is about balance. and when the scale tips in one direction, the items on the other side fall off. This is when it becomes unhealthy and dangerous for caregivers.
Symptoms of caregiver burnout
- Mood changes
- Changes in appetite
- Exhaustion – physical and mental
- Feeling alone and helpless
- Changes to sleep patterns
- Chemical dependencies such as alcohol, or drugs
- More frequent illness
- Weight change
- Withdrawing from activities and social opportunities
Why does burnout happen?
Caregivers often wear too many hats and it is easy to forget which hat they need to wear at what time. Some of those hats include caregiver, spouse, partner, child, or friend. How do you separate yourself from the role of caregiver and allow yourself to be one of the other important roles in someone’s life?
There is often an expectation placed by caregivers, on themselves, to be perfect. They make sure that the person they are caring for receives their ultimate undivided attention. These unrealistic expectations can cause anxiety and frustration about how they can continue to support care needs, meet financial obligations, access, or find resources to develop skills needed to meet everchanging caregiving requirements, while still scheduling family life and needs.
Finally, the risk for a caregiver to become ill increases significantly if they do not recognize that they need help fulfilling their role and give themselves some grace.
Reducing the risk of caregiver burnout
ASK FOR HELP
First thing is to shift the way you think of your role as a caregiver. Ask yourself if you were a nurse at a care home, what would that look like? You are scheduled, four twelve hour days working, and 4 days off. Your schedule is not 24 hours a day, everyday of the year. Think of your role as a caregiver as a job. Do not lose who you are in the process. Your “shift” looks different, but you still need to take time off for yourself. Schedule those breaks like you schedule a care routine. Self Care is important. You need to remember you have a life as well and that it is ok to take that time to recharge.
Secondly, recognize when you have more on your plate than you can handle. Talk to your doctors, specialists, and social workers to find you the help and resources you need. Delegate some of your responsibility to others.
Hire support staff to come in and take on some of the daily routine. Choice in Support for Independent Living (CSIL) may be a good option for you and your family.
- seek medical help for yourself
- talk to your doctor about how you are feeling and what your experiencing
- see a counsellor or therapist
- reach out to friends
- reach out for support from other caregivers in your community
- ask about respite
- make sure your eating healthy, exercising enough and getting adequate sleep
Each community offers supports but finding the right group can be difficult. Talk to your family doctor, ask at the hospital or clinics about support groups, and search online for organizations specific to your needs. Here are a few places to start.
- Brain Injury Society of Canada
- WAGS – Wives and Girlfriends of Spinal Cord Injury
- GF Strong – Vancouver
Wishart Brain and Spine law believes that recovery is not just physical or financial. Our team is here to help our clients obtain the best possible recovery for not only the victim but their family. Part of your claim and recovery is to find resources, support and help for you and your family. You are not alone. Contact Us today for a free consultation. Let us guide you.