Caregiver Burnout - Why Carers Need To Care For Themselves
Caring for someone else is a fulfilling and rewarding thing to do. More than that, the act of caring for rather than abandoning others is part of what makes our societies work. Animals, which care for one another, work far better as ‘teams’, and have more cohesive societies than animals which do not. So caring for others is written into our very DNA. However, doing it alone, at the expense of all else, is not. Those who take on a large burden of care are vulnerable to ‘caregiver burnout’. This is an accumulation of stress which brings on a blunting of empathy, and ultimately impedes one’s ability to not only function in everyday life, but to care for their loved one as well. Not even the most patient, empathetic person in the world is immune to caregiver burnout. For this reason, it is vital that carers take the time to look after themselves, and have occasional respite from their charges.
Symptoms Of Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout can manifest in many different ways, but here are a few common symptoms:
Mood swings. Over time, the accumulation of physical and mental exhaustion will start to erode your emotional stability. This results in mood swings. Often, burned out carers will swing between varying states of anger, depression, and helplessness.
Frequent minor illness. Caregiver burnout depresses your immune system, making you vulnerable to every bug and virus going around.
Irritability. Being irritable, and annoyed by pretty much everything, is a common symptom of caregiver burnout. Needless to say, having a hair-trigger temper does nothing for your ability to act as a good carer.
Letting life get the better of you. Perhaps you’re failing to keep on top of your diet, or control your finances, or keep up with household chores, or the million and one other small tasks which one needs to carry out in order for life to run smoothly. If the bills are mounting, you’re a mess, and the ‘to-do’ list is getting a bit daunting, it might be time to ask if you’re burning out.
Lack of socializing. This is both a cause and a symptom of caregiver burnout. Those who opt for staying at home with the person they’re caring for rather than going out and socializing are often motivated to do so by guilt. A distorted sense of ‘duty’ and a concurrent sense of guilt are strongly associated with caregiver burnout.
Having more and more responsibility piled on by external sources. Those who work too hard as carers will often have their overactive sense of duty taken advantage of by others.
Erosion of empathy. When something becomes too hard for us, our brains sometimes reduce our emotional connection in order to protect ourselves. Disassociation, desensitization, and a general loss of empathy for those being cared for is a troubling but not uncommon symptom of caregiver burnout.
What Can Be Done?
It is vitally important that those who care for others remember to take time to care for themselves as well. Sadly, however, being naturally compassionate people, many who care for others see time spent on themselves as a dereliction of duty, or selfish indulgence. In fact, the opposite is true. Caregiver burnout is a serious issue, and it will affect those who do not take care of themselves adequately.
In order to care effectively for others, every carer needs periods of rest, respite, and ‘me time’.
If you are a carer who finds yourself overwhelmed with guilt every time you attempt to enjoy some ‘me time’, it may be worth scheduling something fun and uplifting for the person you’re caring for to enjoy while you take your respite.
A week at camp, is an excellent opportunity for those being cared for to have a fantastic time, to spread their wings, and to make new friends, while carers can recharge their batteries safe in the knowledge that their loved one is having the time of their lives.
Taking time for yourself does not mean that you are ‘abandoning’ your loved one. Far from it! It simply means that you’re rendering yourself more able to care for them with love and attentiveness when they return from their exciting adventure.