Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver Burnout

By Karen Bromberg

 

What is it and how does it differ from caregiver stress?

 

I’m so glad you asked.

Caregivers experience stress, that’s a given. It’s like getting sunburnt if you sit out in the sun too long without sunscreen; it’s like getting wet if you walk in the rain without an umbrella. You provide care to someone and you’re going to get stressed. It comes with the territory.

Just run a quick Google search and you’ll see just how prevalent it is. But wait, you may say, isn’t caregiver stress and caregiver burnout the same thing? I mean, I’m looking at my Google search results and they seem to use “caregiver stress” and “caregiver burnout” synonymously.

Well, they’re not. What do I mean? Let’s take a closer look.

Author Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. points out in a blog post entitled The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? Running out of gas? Recognizing the signs of burnout before it’s too late on Psychologytoday.com, “When in the throes of full-fledged burnout, you are no longer able to function effectively on a personal or professional level.”

 

But, you may be asking, when does stress cross over and become burn-out?

Short answer, it can be different for each person. It is when a loved one is being rushed yet again to the emergency room? Or when one’s mother or father move in and turn a once relatively quiet existence upside down? Perhaps it’s when the doctor gives the dreaded diagnosis after months of a loved one having this or that illness? It may be any one or none of those things.

So . . .

 

Could you be burnt out and not even know it?

 

Maybe.

Several weeks ago, I was preparing to do a Facebook Livestream. The topic? What else? Caregiver Burnout. I read a bunch of articles and blog posts. To my surprise, I found myself identifying with many of the symptoms: inability to function, detachment, overwhelm.

I was amazed. Truly, it was an eye-opener! I mean, I’d been accused of being detached. Imagine my surprise!

To be honest it made total sense. After all, my parents had died. I was busy at my job. I was trying to catch up with things, things that were important to me, things I let slide during my parents’ illnesses and death. In essence, I was trying to get my life back, all while still struggling with exhaustion.

I had no idea I was burnt out, but as Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. reminds us in her blog post, The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? Running out of gas? Recognizing the signs of burnout before it’s too late in Psycologytoday.com, “You don’t wake up one morning and all of a sudden ‘have burnout.’ Its nature is much more insidious, creeping up on us over time like a slow leak, which makes it much harder to recognize.”

 

So what do I do if I find I’m burnt out?

Even if you think you might be burnt out, the first thing I would do is get checked out by a physician and/or mental health professional, if for no other reason than to get an outsider’s point of view. Now, you can go and talk to a friend, neighbor, or relative and ask him or her if they think you are burnt out but the benefit of being evaluated by a health professional is that the medical professional:

 

  1. is objective,
  2. can help to alleviate the symptoms and
  3. can help to ultimately resolve the condition.

 

It’s so important to stay on top of caregiver burnout, I can’t stress it enough. If not for ourselves, then for the ones we care for.

You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole notion of selfishness vs selflessness. I mean, it’s great when we act selflessly; putting others’ needs ahead of our own, not expecting anything (not even a “thank you”) in return. It’s great. I get it. We feel important. We feel essential. And the truth is, we are.

But there also comes a time when we have to take care of ourselves as well and, no it’s not selfish for us to do so. In fact, if we look at it another way, we can put it along with all the myriad of other selfless acts we perform every day. I mean, we’re taking care of ourselves so that we can stay healthy so that we can take care of our mother, father, spouse, etc. 

And no, it’s not an either/or proposition. It’s not if I take care of myself I can’t take care of my loved one. Not at all. Not even in the slightest. Getting a little rest, doing something else while your loved one is well cared for (possibly in respite care) can make all the difference.

So . . . while waiting for our appointment with our medical professional how about figuring out how much stress we’re under. I know. The answer is “lots,” but “lots” doesn’t really say a lot and the more specific we can be as to the areas of where our stress the more we’ll be able to get out of our appointment. 

In last week’s blog post entitled Caregiver Stress, I addressed ways we can assess our stress levels. My suggestion would be to start there, then once done, bring that information with us and talk about it during our appointment. 

The other reason is that once we know what our stress level is, we can start taking steps toward dialing it back. 

How do we dial it back?  Below are a few ideas:

 

  • Perform relaxation techniques 

    Deep breathing, meditation, deep relaxation are all really good methods for relaxing the body and mind.

 

  • Take a break 

    For some this is tricky. What if you can’t leave the house? What if your loved one is demanding? What if he or she needs to be able to see you or gets upset if he or she can’t? What happens then? Well, you can still take a break. How about sitting in a chair, eyes closed, listening to beautiful music or if you can’t even do that, how about imagining yourself in a lovely garden, perhaps the beach or mountains. Our minds are such powerful instruments. If we can’t change our external environment, how about changing our internal ones. We can put out mind to work in the service of relaxing US.

 

  • Relaxing around the difficulties and challenges 

    What I’m talking about here is a mind-shift. Okay, I can see you there, arms crossed, rolling your eyes but hear me out. What if, instead of tightening your bodies when your loved one says or does something irritating you take a deep breath instead? What if, instead of feeling that jab in the gut, that tightness in the shoulders, you shrug it off as nothing more than a thoughtless word? What if instead of wanting to scream when the doctor’s assistant tells you that the doctor is running two hours late, you simply accept it and let the anger simply wash over and out of you? What then? How much easier would your day be? I’m not saying that you should suppress or repress any emotion. That’s not it at all. And trust me what I’m saying isn’t easy (I’m still working on it) but what if instead of falling into old patterns of reacting, we choose a somewhat different way?

 

  • Find support

    Talk to a friend, family member, someone that you trust and someone that you feel safe with. Remember, there are support groups: in your neighborhood, on the Internet, people who care, people who want to be there for you. Remember, when it comes to family caregiving, there can never be too much support.

 

Did you find the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at staff@helpyouthru.com

 

Caregiver Stress

Caregiver Stress

By Karen Bromberg

What is it?

Stress, as we know, is the body’s “fight or flight” response but as family caregivers how can we, even if we may want to, pick up and leave. We can’t. We know we can’t. Who’d take care of Mom (or Dad, or the spouse, or whomever)? After all, they can’t be left alone. 

Any of this sound familiar? 

It would be so much simpler if we could just get up leave or put up our dukes whenever we find ourselves in a stressful situation while caregiving, wouldn’t it? The getting up and leaving, that we can imagine doing. The putting up our dukes? Why, the picture is almost laughable.

We can’t do that, and we know it, and even if we could, we wouldn’t. We’re caregivers and these are our loved-one. We care for them . . . deeply . . . and want the best for them. That’s why we’ve sacrificed so much for them. (But is it really a sacrifice?)

Yeah, family caregiving can be SO complicated, can’t it? And exhausting. And stressful. It’s so stressful that it’s even a syndrome. Caregiver’s syndrome. I discovered that when I was preparing to do this blog post. I Googled “caregiver stress” and not only did I find numerous articles pertaining to the subject, but what I discovered stunned me. Did you know there’s such a thing as caregiver syndrome? You heard me right. Caregiver Syndrome. If you did, you’re one up on me.

An article on Wikipedia entitled Caregiver Stress describes what I’m sure many a family caregiver has experienced. It says, “Caregiver syndrome or caregiver stress is a condition of exhaustion, anger, rage, or guilt that results from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill dependent.[1] The term is often used by healthcare professionals, but it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

 

Why is this important to know?

Okay, let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us caregivers actually notice that we’re stressed? 

We go about our day, coping as best we can, trying to maintain our balance, trying to keep our cool. We have SO much on our plates that at times it feels as though it’s about to tip over, but we carry on. We’re smart. We’re capable and we know how to get the things done. That’s just who we are. 

 

So what do we do about it?

1. Try not to feel guilty

This is so important, and I know what you’re probably thinking “it’s easy for her to say that, sitting in her living room, writing this post.” And it’s true, it is easy for me to say it and just so hard to do it, but think about it, what has guilt ever given you besides more guilt? I mean, really, it’s not like guilt is empowering. It doesn’t provide any energy. In fact, quite the opposite. It actually makes us feel more tired. It doesn’t provide a positive outlook. Instead of helping us to see possibilities, all it does is provide us with a gloomy outlook. 

2. Assess your level of stress

How? There’s a variety of ways. Talk to a physician or mental health professional. Mentally go through your body and become aware of what muscles might be tight or tense. Notice if your jaw is clenched. Or if the back of your neck is stiff. Additionally, there are quizzes and scales (many scales and quizzes) easily found on the Internet. Simply do a quick Google search on the topic of “Caregiver Stress Assessment” or ”Caregiver Stress Assessment Tools.” You will see a whole list pop up. Some on this list are connected with Assisted Living or other facilities. Others aren’t. Feel free to choose one or two that speak to you. Think of it as a game. After all, as we’ve so often heard, “knowing is half the battle.”

3. Do things to dial back the stress

Okay, now you’re saying, “Sure. Right. Sounds good, but you don’t have my life.  If you did, you wouldn’t be saying that.” And that’s totally true. I don’t have your life and I have no idea of the specifics of what you go through day-to-day. Even so, (and I don’t want to sound judgmental IN THE SLIGHTEST) but I have to tell you there are things you can do NOW that’ll make you feel at least a little better, no matter how busy you are. I’ll be going over more specific techniques and ideas in upcoming posts but for now allow me to give you a few suggestions.

Accept help when it’s offered. This is no small thing. As caregivers, we feel like everything rests on our shoulders. I know because not only have I’ve spoken to numerous family caregivers, it’s also what I experienced. We think that we’re the only ones who can take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, but that’s not entirely true. Accept the help where appropriate and realize that help may not come from where you expect it, (your brother or sister, for example). It may come from your neighbor down the block ringing your doorbell and asking if you need anything from the grocery store.

Make yourself a priority. As family caregivers, we are so good at putting ourselves last. Exercise? Me? Who has the energy? Cook a healthy meal? Who has the time? But we must take of ourselves (Okay, I see you there rolling your eyes), and I know it’s annoying to hear it, but it’s true. We must take the few, precious moments we can to make better choices for ourselves. Why? If for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than who’d care for our loved ones if something were to happen to us?

Get support. Let’s face it, family caregiving is one of the hardest jobs we’ll likely ever be called on to do and we can’t do it alone! My suggestion, my urging, is to find a group either in your neighborhood or, if you can’t leave the house, online that’ll offer you the support you need. Find a place where you can vent, where you can share, where you can get resources and tips to make your journey that much easier. There are tons on Facebook. Find one (or two or three) that meet your needs. Feel free hang out and not say anything if you choose. You’re not required to share but also don’t be afraid to. Remember, people want to listen, they want to help, and they want to be there for you, even if it’s virtually.

 

 

 

Have you found the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at staff@helpyouthru.com

 

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