Caregiver burnout might seem like a given–an unfortunate reality that these “strong” people can “deal with.” But what if you burn all the way out, to the point of no return?
The show must still go on. Someone’s got to take care of your loved one, and you’re probably burnt out in the first place because you’re the only one available.
So, for your loved one’s sake and more importantly, your own, give your burnout some attention.
Are you on the precipice of no return? Lock in practical strategies to stabilize in a sustainable routine.
Or, like too many of us, are you already beyond burned–charred to a crisp? Even if you’ve already crumbled, hope remains. The concept of a phoenix exists for a reason!
Acknowledging and understanding your caregiver burnout
Caregiver burnout can look a lot like anxiety and depression. Common signs of burnout include:
- Loss of interest
- Feeling down or hopeless
- Changes in appetite, sleep, or physical health
- Negative thoughts about yourself and/or your loved one
Burnout is a special type of problem, considering it saps away the very energy you need to address it. In the case of burnout, self-care isn’t enough. Bringing yourself out of burnout for the moment doesn’t address the circumstances that will burn you right out again.
To make real long-term change, you’ll need to sort through your feelings, establish your priorities, and adjust your lifestyle. It sounds like a lot of work, but the beauty of it is that it will eventually be less. Once you can make changes that will curtail future burnout, you will be happier and healthier—not just now, but throughout your time as a caregiver.
Determine the extent of your burnout
To make a change, you first need to understand where you’re currently at. It’s pretty hard to swim to the surface if you don’t know which way is up.
Try using ARCHANGELS’ Caregiver Intensity Index, a short survey and tool made available to Supportiv users for free, or answering the following questions to help orient yourself to your current situation.
On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “none,” and 10 being “more than I ever have in my life,” how burnt out do you feel, overall, right now?
- Is all your burnout coming from your caregiving role, or are other parts of your life draining you as well?
- Do particular caregiver tasks and responsibilities burn you out, or is the caregiver role itself overwhelming?
- Are you so exhausted that even enjoyable activities are making you feel burnt out?
Burnout affects people emotionally, mentally, and/or physically. How is it affecting you?
- Are you emotionally flat and restricted, or do you feel highly reactive emotionally?
- Are you having difficulty concentrating, planning, or cutting through a mental fog?
- Are you exhausted all the time? Do you have the physical energy you need each day?
Practical steps to address burnout
Once you have a better understanding of your burnout, you can actually do something about it.
Below, we offer some practical suggestions for addressing common causes, conceptions, and consequences of caregiver burnout.
How to modify your caregiving routine
If you feel that your caregiving routine is currently unsustainable, try to maximize the parts you love, and work to minimize the parts most difficult for you. This option will usually involve a discussion with your loved one about balancing your needs with theirs.
Consider what aspects of your caregiving routine are the most stressful for you. Is it because of any particular tasks or routines? Is it more so just the stress of knowing you are responsible for another person? Or is it that your loved one doesn’t appreciate all that you do?
Once you know what’s bothering you, you can talk to your loved one about it and see what small, practical changes might be possible.
Struggling with particular parts of your caregiving role?
- Ask your loved one if you can split the responsibilities with someone else, like another family member or a volunteer.
- Make use of resources that can less the burden (e.g., medication organizers, timers/calendars, home safety and accessibility modifications, automatically recurring appointments).
Overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for someone?
- Discuss ways to increase your loved one’s independence.
- Learn how to recognize when your loved one may need more help.
- Practice techniques to prevent yourself from feeling your loved one’s feelings on top of your own.
Discouraged by a lack of appreciation from your loved one?
- Respectfully and gently communicate your feelings to your loved one.
- Practice self-appreciation, because you deserve it.
- Try to empathize with your loved one’s situation. They may feel too ashamed of needing help to be thankful, and situations involving disability can result in difficulties communicating gratitude.
How to find and use coping strategies
Coping skills are especially useful for those situations where you are simply unable to modify your caregiving routine. Though you’re not always able to change your responsibilities as a caregiver, you can change how you respond to the way they affect you.
Common coping techniques:
- To-do lists. The structure will add stability to your routine, and checking things off will leave you with a sense of accomplishment.
- Journaling, or “journaling.” You can create a visual journal through photos, a verbal journal through voice memos, or a good old-fashioned written journal with pen and paper.
- Deep breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and belly breathing are known to help with stress.
- Progressive muscle relaxation can release tension in your body and make you feel more relaxed.
- Practice mindfulness and acceptance.
- Find activities that ground you, such as walks, showers, music, etc.
- Take advantage of emotional contagion: expose yourself to happy people and things.
Your coping techniques don’t need to be the same as what you find here, elsewhere online, or through your friends. While these common techniques work for many people, the key is to find what works for you. Ask yourself what grounds you, what calms you, and do it. The more you practice, the more second-nature it’ll become.
Invest in the rest of your life
You are a caregiver, but you’re a lot more than that. Sometimes we know who we are as a caregiver, as a friend, as a loved one, as a worker—but not as a person. Ask yourself, what brings you joy?
If you feel like caregiving is taking over your life, add other things to it. Even if you’re on call 24/7 for your loved one, set aside 10 minutes for yourself after your loved one goes to sleep. In that 10 minutes, do whatever you want. Learn a skill, meditate, or scroll through your phone. But make it something for you, and you alone.
Once you build up the habit of taking time to yourself (whenever and wherever you can), you’ll find it easier to separate your responsibilities from your self.
A final reminder: prioritize yourself
Ultimately, remember the airplane analogy: you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can put on someone else’s. Being a caregiver is a selfless task.
You spend so much of your time and energy caring for someone else — make sure to extend that same care to yourself, both for your sake and for your loved one’s. Make yourself a priority, along with your loved one. Do things you love. Talk to others who might get what you’re going through. And, like everything else, take it one day at a time. You’ve made it this far.