Taking care of an ill or elderly loved one can take it out of you. Your days may be filled with driving them to doctor’s appointments and making sure they have their medications. You may need to help them pay their bills and keep their house clean. In some cases, you may even need to help them with personal care, like bathing and using the bathroom. On top of all this, you’ve got your own responsibilities to tend to.
When you put so much energy into someone else’s needs, it’s easy to forget about your own. This can lead to burnout, or feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, and burnout can creep up on you before you know it. Here are six signs of caregiver burnout.
Caring for a loved one can be extremely stressful, especially when you also have a job and a family of your own. Over time, stress can increase the risk of many health problems.
Worry, panic, and inability to focus are all signs of caregiver stress. Frequent colds or headaches, or even developing chronic illnesses, are a signal you may be close to burnout.
Fatigue is another sign that you may be burning out. Stress and worry can interfere with your sleep. You may wake up several times a night if you are caring for someone who wanders or is at risk of falling out of bed. Although it’s normal to have an occasional bad night, if you are always tired, you may be close to burnout.
When you’re caring for someone who is old or ill, you may feel that you have to be upbeat and nice to them all the time. But if your loved one lashes out at you, it’s natural to feel frustration or get annoyed. However, if you are often irritable or impatient, resent caregiving demands, or have angry outbursts over little things, you might be at risk of caregiver burnout.
It is painful to see someone you love get sicker or struggle to care for themselves. You may feel that you aren’t doing a good job or that you can’t make the person better. You may also feel guilt, regret, or grief. It’s natural to feel sad and cry sometimes, especially if you’re worn out, but if you find yourself bursting into tears at the drop of a hat, that might be a sign of burnout.
Caregiving responsibilities can take up a lot of your free time. You may feel too tired to see friends like you used to. You may fear that friends won’t understand what caregiving requires, or what you’re going through. This can make you feel isolated and alone just when you most need support. Caregiving may mean that you have to cancel plans on occasion. But avoiding friends, whether that’s ignoring texts or phone calls or making excuses for not getting together, is a sign you may be close to burnout.
When you’re a caregiver, too much stress, too little sleep—and even too little fun—can result in too little time for your health. You might eat more junk food or forget to eat at all. You’re less likely to exercise. You may put off your own doctor or dental visits. If you have to do strenuous things as part of your loved one’s care—like helping them in and out of bed or pushing a wheelchair—you might get backaches. All these can be signs of caregiver burnout.
If you’re experiencing some or all of these signs of burnout, it’s important to do what you can to reduce caregiver stress. Joining a caregiver support group or seeking out individual therapy can help you manage some of your emotions and feel less alone. Finding time for yourself by hiring a professional caregiver for a few hours a week can help you recharge, perhaps by going for a walk or simply taking a nap.
Remember that you can’t provide the best care for someone else unless you are taking care of yourself.