Easing Back into Caregiving After Burnout

caregiving after burnout

Being a caregiver can be very rewarding, but it can also be overwhelming. This is especially true as a loved one gets sicker or has new medical conditions that make their care even more intensive. And while you certainly love your elderly parent or senior relative and want what’s best for them, sometimes you might want to escape from all of the responsibility.

Caregiver burnout is a very real phenomenon that can affect your mental, emotional, and physical health. More than 53 million people were providing unpaid care to a loved one in 2022, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. Of those caregivers, many have felt negative impacts in their lives, including 41% who have experienced some sort of financial difficulty due to caregiving, 25% who find it difficult to coordinate care, and 20% who report that their own health has gotten worse as a result of caring for their loved one[1].

Providing care for those who have intensive needs can be even more difficult. For instance, 26% of caregivers are responsible for the care of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia[2]. Some studies report that depression affects one in every three caregivers who care for those with dementia, while other studies have put the rate of depression as high as 83% for those individuals.

It is painful to watch those you love affected by illness or disease as they age, and there is a simultaneous loss of the lifestyle that caregivers were used to. Is it any wonder that so many caregivers wind up feeling burnout?

Dealing with Caregiver Burnout

Burnout can have a wide variety of symptoms. The Cleveland Clinic says that the symptoms of burnout are very similar to the symptoms of depression and stress, such as:

·         Feeling down, irritable, or hopeless

·         Withdrawing from family and friends

·         Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy

·         Emotional exhaustion

·         Feeling as though you want to hurt yourself or the person you are caregiving for

Burnout can lead to physical problems as well, that can include:

·         Body aches and pains with no clear cause

·         Changes in appetite and/or weight

·         Fatigue

·         Frequent headaches

·         Trouble with sleep, especially insomnia

·         A weakened immune system, which means you get sick more often

The biggest problem with caregiver burnout is that once you start to feel the symptoms and realize what is happening to you, it’s tough to reverse the trend. Unless you immediately reach out for help to get some breathing room, the burnout can get worse until you are unable to care for your loved one anymore, or even appropriately care for yourself.

How to “Reset” After Burnout

When caregiver burnout begins to happen, it’s vitally important to do what you must do to give yourself some time away to improve your health and relieve the stress. But how do you do that? It can seem impossible, especially when you are the sole caregiver for someone who needs constant attention. Consider these tips:

·         Enlist the help of family and friends. Though you might be the one handling the majority of the caregiving burden, when you are facing burnout, others will need to step up if they possibly can. This might mean a family member from out of town coming to spend a few days or weeks with your elderly parent while you take some time to recharge, or a friend who will relieve you for a few hours each day. Reach out for help and make the situation clear: you must have a break. It’s not a matter of simply wanting a break; it’s a matter of needing one.

·         Look for respite care. Respite care can take many forms. At the very least, it can mean a few hours here and there for you to temporarily step away from your duties to focus on your own needs. The National Respite Locator can give you some idea of where to begin when looking for help. You will likely find that you return to your caregiving duties feeling refreshed and renewed.

·         Consider adult day care. Adult day care provides supervised care for your elderly parent; the type of care depends upon what is offered in your community. Some adult day care services require that the person be able to use the toilet and handle some activities of daily life, while others have more extensive care available. Some are specifically designed for those with cognitive issues. This page on Eldercare Locator can help you find something near you.

·         Bring in professional help. If your senior parent or elderly loved one requires more and more help, you will likely reach a point of being overwhelmed. For your own sake and for the safety of your parent, it might be time to bring in a professional caregiver. AARP offers wonderful information on how to find a professional caregiver.

·         Talk to a counselor. No matter which of the options you choose for easing the burden of care, talking to someone about what you’re going through is an absolute must. While friends and family might be willing to listen to you vent, a professional counselor might be able to provide you with unbiased insight and resources that will help you cope.

As you go through recovery from caregiver burnout, remember that you cannot pour anything from an empty cup. You need not feel guilty for making your own health a priority. Now is a good time to embark on a healthier diet, make sure exercise fits into your schedule, and get all the sleep you need. Consider other ways to get peace of mind, such as opting for an emergency response solution for your loved one that can give you and your loved one peace of mind when you can’t be there.

When You Come Back from a Break for Caregiver Burnout

Getting a break for a bit can help ease your stress and lift your spirits. But you might start to dread going back to your caregiving role. That anxiety can lead to the emotions and worries that were so difficult for you in the first place, thus starting a vicious cycle. That’s why it’s so important to go back to your caregiving duties with a written plan for your own self-care.

When you come back to your caregiving duties after suffering burnout, remember that your own emotional, physical, and mental health is important. Here are some ways to keep burnout from happening again:

·         Schedule time for yourself. By now you know that not having enough time for yourself can easily lead to caregiver burnout. A few minutes here and there might not be enough to fully recharge – you might need a regularly scheduled night or weekend away. Make that time for yourself a priority. Look to family, friends, professional caregivers, respite care, etc. to keep that schedule.

·         Engage in support groups. Talking with those who are going through the same thing you are can provide peace of mind and plenty of ideas on how to make life easier. Local support groups are available all across the country. If you can’t find one near you, consider an online support group. The Family Caregiver Alliance can help.

·         Get regular counseling. Hopefully you started counseling when you took a step back to recover from burnout. Continue that counseling after you come back to your caregiving duties. Having a non-family member you can speak to confidentially on a regular basis can give you a moment of reprieve to look forward to as well as a place to vent and get unbiased advice.

·         Make your own health a priority. Take the time to exercise, get enough sleep, eat the right foods, and socialize with others. These are the first things that tend to fall to the wayside when you are deep into caregiving for your senior parent. It can take some time and effort to fit them into your schedule, but it’s worth it to keep yourself healthy and strong for your own sake and for your parent.

·         Relieve some of the burden. Make life around the house easier with aging in place solutions, such as grab bars or ramps. Use a medication organizer, reminder, and dispenser to make handling multiple prescriptions easier. Look to a medical alert pendant to provide peace of mind that your elderly loved one can summon help at a moment’s notice.

·         Be aware of your limits. Recognize that while you might want to do everything for your senior parent, there is only so much of you to go around. This is especially true if you are part of the Sandwich Generation – you might have children to raise, a home to maintain, and paid work to attend to, among many other things on your plate[3]. Once you’ve experienced caregiver burnout, you know how important it is to take a step back and assess what you can and cannot do. That’s where respite care, professional help, and friends and family come into play.

At some point, you will likely begin to feel overwhelmed again. When that happens, take a step back and take a deep breath. Assess the situation – is this a temporary response to a small frustration, or is this part of a larger pattern? If you begin to see a pattern, you might be headed toward burnout again. That means it’s time to move yourself up in the priority list and take the time you need to recharge. Alert1 wishes you and your elderly loved ones peace of mind and heart as you navigate the caregiver journey.