Many are faced with the task of looking after their loved one(s), not knowing that this can be a truly challenging task both physically and emotionally. The pressure can often leave one exhausted and as a result, you won’t be able to perform your caregiver duties properly. This is known as caregiver fatigue (or caregiver burnout), it’s quite common, but preventable.
Caregiver burnout or fatigue is defined as a state where the caregiver feels emotionally, physically and mentally drained. This leads to change in attitude towards the job, recipient and negative feelings such as resentment.
Fatigue is often caused by neglecting your own physical and mental health and allowing stress to build up for a long time. In order to take good care of others, you first need to make sure that you take care of yourself.
Causes of caregiver fatigue
Our health can take a big hit if we focus all our energy and time on the care of our loved ones. This is often accompanied by negative thoughts about your job as a caregiver, the care recipient and can lead to resenting both. The most common causes of caregiver fatigue or burnout are:
Control – When you’re providing care for your loved ones, you want to help them in any way you possibly can, to make their life easier. But you’re not always able to do so. Maybe you don’t have enough money to provide proper care or you simply can’t dedicate enough time which can cause excess stress.
Expectations – No matter how hard you try to help your loved ones; they might not get better or you might not be able to cheer them up or make them more comfortable. It can be difficult to accept that despite your continuous efforts; things are not playing out the way you wanted them to.
Unreasonable demands – Caregivers are often faced with unreasonable demands either by the care recipient or their family members and often the caregivers fulfill these demands because they think they are obligated to do so. But you can’t forget that all participants in the caregiving process (caregiver, recipient, family members etc.) must work together in order to make this process as smooth as possible.
Role strain – This is often a cause of caregiver fatigue, especially if you’re a caregiver to an elderly parent or loved one. You’re having a hard time setting apart your responsibilities as a caregiver and as a close relative, which causes stress.
How to tell if someone suffers from caregiver fatigue?
Just like with any other illness, in order to treat it, you first need to identify it. The same goes for caregiver fatigue. If you suspect that someone is suffering from caregiver burnout, see if they display some of the following symptoms:
- Resentment towards the care recipient
- Feeling depressed – helplessness, irritability, alienation or hopelessness
- Trouble falling and staying asleep
- Lack of motivation for the job
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Excessive use of alcohol and drugs
Preventing caregiver fatigue
Now that we have identified the common causes and symptoms of caregiver fatigue, here are a few things and activities you (or your family member who is a caregiver) can do in order to prevent it:
- Being a caregiver doesn’t mean that you have to do everything by yourself, and you shouldn’t. So if you feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.
- Make sure that you take breaks, go out for a walk, spend time with friends or even treat yourself to a wellness treatment or massage.
- Set aside a 15-20 minutes every morning JUST for yourself. You can use this time to enjoy your morning coffee/tea, journal about your struggles or feelings, meditate, pray or whatever you feel like doing.
- Being a good caregiver often means being good at delegating tasks and chores. So every day, make a list of things you have to do and see if you can delegate some to your family members. Divide and conquer.
- If your job provides you family-leave benefits, use them. This can take a huge weight off your shoulders.
- Make sure that you inform yourself about your loved one’s illness. This way you will be more effective in your role as a caregiver.
- You’re important too. So make sure that you take good care of your health, have a well-balanced diet, a hobby that will be a stress release and if necessary, you can also talk to a professional about your struggles and feelings.
- Communicating with other caregivers who are in the same (or similar) situation as you can help you greatly. So make sure that you search for local hospice support groups.
Being a caregiver can be challenging sometimes, but you must always be aware that you’re appreciated, even if your loved ones can’t tell you themselves.
Staying in touch with friends and family that support you is very important, because they can be all you need in order to feel that you’re appreciated. Even if they might not be able to help you with your caregiving duties, a friendly and pleasant chat can do wonders.
If your loved one, who is the care recipient is unable to express his/her gratitude and how he/she appreciates everything that you do for them, just try and imagine how they would respond if they could.