Family caregivers are often the forgotten heroes of elder care. Whether it's a spouse, adult child, or other relative, these caregivers sacrifice their time and energy caring for an aging relative. If you're a family caregiver, you need to make sure that you are still taking time for yourself and fulfilling your own life goals. Otherwise, burnout can become a real problem and it affects both you and your relative's quality of life. This guide will help you recognize the signs of burnout and help you find the help you need to overcome it.
Symptom #1: Depression or Irritability
Any uptick in negative moods or an increase of mood swings is a sure sign of impending burnout. You may feel more easily irritated or annoyed, or you may begin having depression or anxiety attacks. Fits of temper or just generalized anger can also indicate burnout.
Symptom #2: Health Issues
Does it feel like your health is suffering? Often, caregivers spend so much time worrying about others that they end up missing their own doctor's appointments. You may also find yourself eating poorly or skipping meals, missing your normal exercise, or skipping out on sleep. All of this increases your chances of a health crisis.
Symptom #3: Fatigue
Caring for another person is tiring work, but you should still wake up each day refreshed. If you start having trouble sleeping, or just want to sleep all the time, you are likely suffering from burnout. This is especially true if your fatigue is accompanied by a loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy.
What You Can Do:
First and foremost, you need to seek help from a medical provider immediately if you are suffering from depression or anxiety. These are serious conditions that require intervention.
Take time off. You cannot and should not handle all caregiving on your own. Give yourself at least one full day off each week and allow another relative or a trusted friend to take care of your loved one. This day off is for you. It is not to run errands for your relative.
Get help. Take advantage of any home care assistance in your area. This can include general assistance, such as in cleaning or meal preparation, or specific care services, such as bathing or exercising your relative. A little help can go a long way toward relieving stress.
Put yourself first. You are of no use if you are ill or irritable. Take some time each day to exercise, meditate, read—anything that you enjoy and that is beneficial to your general well-being. Schedule an hour when your charge is asleep or when you can have a home helper come in for a short time.