In 2015 there were 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia. Around 32% of these are primary carers, providing the most informal assistance to another individual. Most primary carers provide more than 20 hours a week of care, which is a huge commitment that can be difficult to take on in addition to the carer’s other responsibilities. Over time, the emotional and physical energy that is required for caring can start to take its toll. In extreme cases, the carer may experience caregiver burnout.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout occurs when the carer becomes physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted from the stress of caring for their loved one. This is compounded if they feel alone, do not have support from other family members, or don’t feel that all of the work that they do is appreciated.
As caregiving has taken over their life, caregivers will often forget to take care of themselves and may become depressed. If this goes on for too long, they may eventually lose complete interest in caring for themselves and the person that they are looking after. If this happens and it is not seen to, the caregiver will not physically be able to take good care of their loved one. As such, it has a detrimental effect on not only the carer but also the person in their care.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?
There are several warning signs that can indicate that burnout may be likely before it occurs. If you know the signs to look out for, you can monitor them and take steps to minimise the stress that you are experiencing before it becomes more serious.
The following are the most common early signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout:
- Anxiety or constant worry
- Feeling that you are not in control of your life
- Avoiding people that you used to spend time with
- Becoming irritated easier and more frequently
- Having little interest in doing activities that you normally do
- Not looking after your own health and needs
The above are the more emotional aspects of caregiver burnout. When it does occur, however, caregiver burnout can have physical symptoms too, such as:
- Body aches and pains
- Headaches or migraines
- A change in appetite, whether increased or decreased, that can cause weight changes
- A weaker immune system, which can lead to more frequent infections
As burnout progresses, the symptoms may become more severe, which can make it progressively more difficult for the caregiver to look after their loved one.
How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
As a carer, there are several things that you can do to ensure you are taking care of yourself, which will help prevent burnout:
- Ask For Help: Remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself and asking friends and family for help will take the load off of you. You will likely find that the people around you are more than happy to take on some of your caring tasks.
- Seek out Support: As well as asking for practical help with your caregiving tasks, emotional support is also essential. Keeping everything to yourself can lead to feelings of depression and feeling overwhelmed. Try to talk about what you are going through to help retain your own mental health when caregiving. This can be as simple as leaning on friends or family members, or seeking professional counselling, if necessary.
- Don’t Take on Too Much: As a carer, it’s important to know your limitations. Do the tasks that you feel comfortable to do, and delegate the rest of the responsibilities to other family members or carers. Remember that it’s OK to say no to doing something that you think is too difficult, or that you don’t have time for.
- Talk to Other Caregivers: Talking to someone who is in a similar situation to you can be a great form of support. It also gives you the chance to give support and encouragement to someone else that is going through something similar.
- Take a Break: Breaks are vital to reduce stress and restore your energy levels. When you are not taking care of your loved one, spend time doing things that you find relaxing, or that improve your mood.
- Don’t Neglect Your Social Life: While caregiving may take up a lot of your time and energy, it’s important to keep doing things you enjoy to ensure you are maintaining your own happiness.
- Take Care of Your Health: Make sure you are not neglecting your own health to look after someone else’s. Go to your regular doctor appointments, and take your medications. Also, try to eat nutritious meals to retain your health and improve your energy and stamina.
Maintaining a healthy mind and body is essential for all caregivers. At Brain Sparks, we share tools to bring understanding and insight into living the best life you can when coping with health and wellbeing challenges. We help professional caregivers, families and communities understand the difficulties that people face as they age or deal with neurological disorders. The Compassionate Touch® or Ignite™ courses may be of interest to you.