Caregivers, or carers, are a vital part of our community. The work of a carer makes a big difference to the lives of those they are helping. Duties might include companionship, housekeeping, personal care, meal planning and many other daily tasks.
The task of caring can be demanding and stressful, which makes it vital that the carer considers their own physical and emotional wellbeing and ranks it as highly as the person they are caring for. Caregiver burnout, or compassion fatigue, is a real risk for professional and family carers.
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that occurs when the carer’s own wellbeing is neglected in preference for that of their charge.
Signs of caregiver burnout include:
- emotional exhaustion
- physical exhaustion
- changed sleeping patterns
- sadness or depression
- social withdrawal
- changes in appetite/weight loss or gain.
In order to avoid caregiver burnout, it’s necessary to look at the causes. Generally, burnout is a result of physically, financially or emotionally demanding circumstances.
Some factors leading to caregiver burnout include:
- role confusion – carers being thrust into the role of carer and being confused about how to separate the role as caregiver from the role of spouse, child, friend, etc.
- unrealistic expectations – carers expecting their involvement to have a clear positive effect on the health and happiness of their charge. (This may not be the case in instances of progressive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or cancer).
- lack of control – carers can become easily overwhelmed by uncontrollable factors related to caring, including lack of money, resources, time and skills to manage their charge’s care.
- unreasonable demands – carers may place unreasonable burdens on themselves, or have unreasonable expectations placed on them by others. Others may also disregard their own responsibilities and place them on the identified primary caregiver.
So, how can you avoid caregiver burnout?
If you are a carer, know that you are not alone. You can have access to support and resources to help you manage your role and take care of yourself.
Here are some ideas:
- take time out for yourself to do things you enjoy and to socialise, even if that’s only for a few minutes
- make use of subsidised services to get help at home
- talk to others about how you’re feeling and ask for help if you need it
- seek professional help through a counsellor or a carers’ support group
- write a list to help you prioritise and organise what you need to do
- be honest with yourself about how much you can and cannot take on
- look out for signs (and make adjustments) if you feel you’re becoming stressed
- know your legal and financial rights and responsibilities as a caregiver
- be kind to yourself and realise that you’re doing your best, even on a bad day.
Have you experienced caregiver burnout? Did you find a way to re-energise? Did you know about the services that could help you?