Avoiding caregiver burnout
Use these tips to keep your energy up and prevent burnout.
Caring for someone around the clock is a real labor of love — especially if you’re also balancing a career and family. But be sure to squeeze in some self-care time, too, to keep your health and well-being on track.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout (and how to prevent it) can help you stay well, so you can continue to be there for your loved one.
What is caregiver burnout?
Like any type of burnout, caregiver burnout results from having continuous and repeated responsibilities — in this case, the daily care of a family member or friend.
It generally starts as mild stress. You may become irritable, anxious or have trouble sleeping. You might also develop health issues or withdraw from friends and family.
“Whether you’re a part- or full-time caregiver, it can be stressful,” says Cybele Pacheco, MD, a Geisinger family medicine physician. “You may feel overwhelmed and exhausted at times, especially if you’re trying to balance caregiving with other responsibilities. Be mindful of your own health. If you don’t take care of yourself, you could run the risk of developing your own health problems.”
Know the symptoms
As a caregiver who’s focused on someone else, you might overlook your own health and well-being. Knowing the signs of caregiver burnout can help you take action sooner. They can include:
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Feeling exhausted and sick more often
- Losing interest in hobbies
- Disruption in sleep patterns
- Feeling angry or irritable often
Too much stress, especially over a long period of time, negatively impacts your health. So think of these symptoms as a sign: It’s time to take steps to manage your stress. You may want to talk to your doctor about your symptoms, too.
How to prevent burnout
Follow these tips to prevent burnout and keep caregiver stress at bay:
Ask for help (and accept it when it’s offered)
If you have friends or family who are close, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Keep in mind that they don’t have to take over caring for your loved one. Instead, they can assist with daily chores such as grocery shopping or doing laundry. Just taking a few things off your to-do list can make all the difference.
Take a break
Your break can be as simple as stepping away to catch up on emails and phone calls, reading a book or watching a movie. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s something that helps you relax and recharge.
Can’t take much time away from your caregiving responsibilities? Try for several quick breaks. These mini breaks throughout the day can help you catch your breath and significantly lower your stress.
Think of tasks others can help with, such as running errands, and delegate those tasks. If your friends and family can take even one or two small jobs off your plate, your workload will feel lighter. Your loved ones want to help you, so let them!
Let others know how you’re doing — and make sure you’re being honest. Start the discussion and keep the dialogue open. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Sometimes just sharing how you feel and feeling supported can really boost your outlook and mood.
Find a support group
Look for a support group in your local area. Talking with other caregivers can help you feel less isolated and grow your support network in the process. You might get some good tips from others going through the same caregiving challenges.
Continue to see your friends
Don’t let your personal relationships fall through the cracks. Make time for those you care about and enjoy seeing. They’ll take your mind off of your caregiving duties and can lend an ear when you need them. Spending time with others will help you be a better caregiver.
Stay on top of your health
Make sure to keep your own medical appointments. If you’re feeling stressed, talk to your doctor. They may be able to recommend ways to reduce your stress and avoid getting sick. When you have questions, trust a professional’s advice. Keep your health a top priority so you can be the best caregiver you can be.
Look into care options
If caring for your loved one becomes too difficult, consider other long-term care options for them, such as adult day care, home health or a skilled nursing facility.
You may want to look into LIFE Geisinger, a program for adults 55 and older that gives seniors the support they need to live at home. Care is based on a person’s individual needs and offers caregivers relief and support.
“When you’re a caregiver, it’s easy to neglect yourself while putting loved ones first,” says Dr. Pacheco. “It’s important to take breaks when you can and build a support network around you of friends and family who lift you up.”
Managing stress can be as easy as taking good care of yourself. Make sure you get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet and take time to do things you enjoy. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and breathing exercises, can help you reduce stress and cope better, too.
You know your limits. Pull back when you start to feel stretched too thin. Be sure to connect with others when you can. When you choose to put yourself first some of the time, you help yourself and the person in your care.
If you continue to feel the effects of caregiver burnout, consider seeking professional help. “Whatever you do, make sure you don’t lose yourself in caring for your loved ones needs that you forget your own,” says Dr. Pacheco. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.”
Learn about the LIFE Geisinger program
See who’s eligible to participate in LIFE Geisinger
Meet Cybele Pacheco, MD