Caregiver Stress: Signs and Avoiding Burnout

Apr 8, 2024 | Caregivers & Families

Caring for a loved one is very rewarding, but the demand and unpredictability can take its toll. With caregiving often being long-term, prioritizing your health as the caregiver is a necessity. And while some caregiver stress is completely normal, high levels of stress for a long period of time leads to burnout. Learning to recognize the signs of burnout and taking action to prevent further progression will benefit both you and the person you’re caring for.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout is important, so you can start improving the situation, instead of letting it continue to worsen. Here are five warning signs that you are experiencing caregiver stress.

1. Lack of Energy

While it is completely normal to experience tiredness, especially when you are a caregiver, lack of energy becomes concerning when there is a constant feeling of both physical and emotional exhaustion. If you are experiencing this type of fatigue, you might notice that you are spending more time alone, you lack the motivation to complete tasks outside of caretaking, and you have difficulty falling or staying asleep.

2. Changes in Eating Habits

Changes in eating habits, specifically accompanied by weight gain or weight loss, is another sign of burnout. While you are likely focused on providing a well-balanced diet for your loved one, it is still important to prioritize fueling your body. Maintaining a healthy eating routine as caregiver can be made easier with meal-prep, keeping healthy snacks on-hand, and utilizing appliances like crockpots where you can “set it and forget it.” Healthy Eating While Caregiving, an article written by AARP, is a great resource that we recommend for additional ideas and recipes.

3. A Feeling of Hopelessness

There does not seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel – this is a phrase that caregivers know all too well. Though rewarding, being a caregiver is also demanding; between the unpredictability, stress, and long hours it is likely that during your time as a caregiver you will experience a depletion in your emotional wellbeing. In fact, almost half of caregivers who provide care for 40+ hours per week are diagnosed with depressive symptoms. It is important that if you begin experiencing these feelings of hopelessness, you take a step back to focus on your own mental health.

4. Neglecting Your Own Needs

When caring for a loved one, it is easy to disregard your own needs, especially if it means better fulfilling theirs. And while that might be attainable for a short period of time, if you are providing long-term care, it is important not to neglect your own physical and emotional needs. As a caregiver, picture your needs like an oxygen mask on an airplane – your own mask needs to be properly placed before assisting others. 

5. Becoming Impatient or Irritated

Sometimes caregiver burnout can lead to a build up of emotions that cause even the most poised person to lash out. While caregiving can be unpredictable, the days often feel rather monotonous, which can lead to impatience and irritation. Those who provide care long-term are especially susceptible. If you find yourself in a situation with heightened emotions, it is important to remove yourself, even for just a moment, so you can regain your composure. 

Tips to Avoid Burnout

Incorporating these simple items into your everyday life can have a huge positive impact on caregiver stress.

1. Get Organized

Between medication management, providing care for activities of daily living, and ensuring the emotional wellbeing of your loved one you wear many hats as a caregiver, and that can get overwhelming. And with the addition of your personal life, it often seems like there are not enough hours in the day. Organization can be a great tool that provides some reprieve from the chaos. Implementing simple organization tactics, like calendars or a meal plan, can help alleviate some of the added stress that you’re under as caretaker. 

2. Seek Support

Being a caregiver for your loved one can be especially difficult, because you often see firsthand the changes that are happening. Your loved one may experience health declines, or they may no longer remember who you are – regardless of the situation, you still show up for them through your grief. But who is showing up for you? Seeking mental health support from a licensed therapist can help you to process the grief you are feeling and develop coping mechanisms to help prevent burnout.

3. Ask for Help

While asking for help can be difficult, there are often many people in your life who would love to lend a hand. Do not be afraid to be specific when asking for help, as this is the best way to communicate exactly where there is a need. And while you might be tempted to take this extra time to provide additional care for your loved one, try to leave some of it for yourself

4. Set Boundaries

If you cannot remember the last time you slept for more than a few hours, ate a proper meal, or took an afternoon for yourself then you are not setting adequate boundaries as a caregiver. Building healthy boundaries is important for maintaining both your physical and emotional wellbeing. Just remember, a caregiver can only provide quality care when they know their own needs and limitations. Setting boundaries looks different for each individual, but you can start by identifying what your personal goals are and begin setting boundaries from there.

5. Consider Respite Care

Respite care provides short-term relief for primary caregivers, giving them time to rest and recharge. This is a great option for caregivers who are looking to take a vacation, spend time with friends and family, or even take care of their own health issues. Care might last for just a few hours or several weeks at a time, depending on the circumstance.

We are here to help! At Sunset Senior Communities, we offer respite care at a daily rate. If you are interested in more information or would like to see which of our communities offer respite care, please contact 616.457.2770 or visit our website.