Caregiving is hard work. Taking care of someone else, whether it’s a child, a sick friend, or an older relative, Burnout is something that many of us are all too familiar with these days, as we approach the two year mark of the pandemic. Many of us have been through a lot in the past two years, and it’s emotionally exhausting. Caregiving isn’t just limited to the pandemic, of course. Caregivers have been experiencing caregiver burnout for as long as folks have needed care.
It’s tough enough to have to take care of ourselves sometimes, but when you add in more people who need care, it’s easy to take on too much. For caregivers, this often means that they take care of themselves last (if at all). Over time, caregivers can experience caregiver burnout if their own needs are ignored for too long.
What is caregiver burnout?
Caregiver burnout is “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. Some signs of caregiver burnout include:
- Lack of energy
- Ignoring your own needs
- Increased irritability or mood swings
- Changes in how you eat or sleep
- Frequent illness (like colds, headaches, etc.)
- Exhaustion (emotionally and physically)
- Social withdrawal and disinterest in hobbies
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
What causes caregiver burnout?
Caring for someone, even when you love them very much and want the best for them, requires a lot more than the average job. It’s an emotionally and physically exhausting experience, often requiring round the clock physical and mental availability. It can be hard to avoid taking on more than you can handle when someone you love needs you.
Sometimes caring for an older relative can cause a shift in the relationship dynamic. It can be difficult to go from the role of someone’s child to their primary caregiver. This can make it even trickier to navigate caregiver relationships, for both parties who aren’t used to the role reversal.
A lack of control can also lead to caregiver burnout.
It’s expensive to care for others, and money struggles can be a major source of stress. It’s also hard to access all the resources necessary to care for others, which can add to that stress. Finally, it can be an emotional experience to have to take care of older or sick relatives. Anticipatory grief, or feeling like you are preemptively grieving, can be hard to manage on top of all of your other caregiving duties.
Caregivers have been working around the clock since humans have existed, but the pandemic years have made it even tougher. We’ve had to shift the way we interact socially, and loneliness is more common than ever before.
Parents who are raising children have had to make tough decisions like whether to homeschool or how best to keep their loved ones safe. Parents are also on the front lines trying to let their kids still be kids during this weird time. If you’re a parent and you’re struggling right now with navigating regular life and pandemic life, you’re not alone. Caregiver burnout is everywhere.
If you’re a caregiver and you’re feeling burned out, there are things you can do to help. Here are 4 ways to deal with caregiver burnout right now:
Ask for help
We aren’t meant to do everything on our own. It’s okay to ask for help, and not being able to do it all doesn’t make you a failure. No one can do it all, and everyone needs help. If you’re someone’s primary caregiver, who else can you tag in for support when you need a break? Are there other family members who can take on some aspect of your loved one’s care, like driving to appointments or refilling prescriptions?
If you don’t even know where to start asking for help, keep a running list of all the things you do in a day. It’s probably a lot more than you even consciously realize, and when you see it all written down, it may be easier to decide what can be outsourced to someone else. People are often a lot more willing to help than we think, especially if you can be specific about what they need to do.
Having a group of people who get exactly where you’re coming from and exactly how you’re feeling can be priceless. Whether you prefer to find community virtually or in person, there are groups out there full of people like you who are eager to help and be helped. Even if all you do is listen or read others’ posts, you’ll probably feel a lot less alone and hopeless when you can see that others have gone through what you’re going through.
Find a way to vent
Give yourself an outlet for your feelings. Whether that’s a journal, a voice memo, a call with a friend, or a visit with a therapist, it’s important to find ways to process your feelings. Having a place where you can vent if you need to can go a long way toward making you feel less alone. Try to be compassionate to yourself when you’re venting. You’re not a bad person because you’re overwhelmed or need help. Everyone needs help and everyone gets overwhelmed from time to time. You’re doing the best you can.
Schedule time off (and stick to it)
No one can be on all the time. If you’re in a caregiving role, it’s important to give yourself breaks so you can be well rested. You don’t need to take a ton of time off, but giving yourself time to look forward to can be helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed as a caregiver.
You can also take mindful breaks throughout the day. Breaks don’t have to all be a week-long vacation (in fact, they often aren’t). A true break is one that will leave you feeling well-rested, cared for, replenished, and less anxious overall. You can get that in a number of ways, whether it’s through daily meditation, a walk outside, a nice nap, or something else.