Signs of Caregiver Burnout

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Signs of Caregiver Burnout

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By Emma Smith, MPH and Laura Galbreath, MPP

“To be able to care for the people you love, you must first take care of yourself. It’s like the advice we’re given on airplanes: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. Taking care of yourself is a valid goal on its own, and it helps you support the people you love.”
- NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Though the work of a caregiver is rewarding, at times it can be stressful and emotionally draining. If left unaddressed, caregiver burnout can take a toll on your physical and mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, caregiving has been associated with elevated levels of depression and anxiety, higher use of psychoactive medications, worse self-reported physical health, compromised immune function, and increased risk of early death. Over half of caregivers indicate that a decline in their health compromises their ability to provide care.

Identifying caregiver burnout

Typical signs of caregiver burnout include fatigue, weight changes, sleeplessness, feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness, anxiety, depression, and withdrawal from activities you once enjoyed and/or people you once socialized with. There are many online quizzes, such as this one, that you can take to assess your level of burnout.

Coping with caregiver burnout

First and foremost, recognize that feeling overwhelmed and stressed is common for caregivers, and it is okay to take some time to recharge, refocus, and reset. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance with activities like laundry, running errands, or cooking. Don’t take on more than you can handle. (It’s also okay to say no.) Set aside “me time” to journal, meditate, do yoga, or whatever is most comforting to you. Consider joining an in-person or online caregiver support group. Examples of online groups include Sandwich Generation and The Caregiver Space.

Second, be aware of the risks and dangers of some coping mechanisms. Alcohol and other forms of self-medications can quickly turn into dependence (physical dependence on alcohol or other substances characterized by tolerance and withdrawal symptoms) and addiction (inability to stop using alcohol or other substances despite growing negative consequences). So, if you’re starting to rely on that cocktail every night to relax, consider switching it with something healthier (e.g., stretching, drawing, games, music).

Knowing when to seek help

Online screening is a quick and easy way to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or addiction. Mental Health America has a variety of screening tests that you can take, as well as information, resources, and tools to help you understand and improve your mental health.

There are self-help tools that you can try, such as this list provided by Mental Health America. You might also consider downloading a mental health app. Some apps are designed to help those struggling with issues like depression, anxiety, or PTSD, while others are based on positive psychology and aim to increase focus, happiness, and calm through mindfulness and meditation.

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