The very things required to function within daily life of caring for a loved one with exceptional needs can lead to feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. If unchecked, these feelings build; leaving one vulnerable to getting stressed over things that were once not stressful. It's very easy to become hyper-focused, over-involved, and unable to separate yourself from the situation. This is very common, normal, and at the same time, dangerous.
Caregivers burnout, is a deep physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion accompanied by acute emotional pain. Fatigued caregivers continue to give themselves fully to the person they are caring for, finding it difficult to maintain a healthy balance of empathy and objectivity.
The cost of this can be quite high in terms of functionality, family, work, community and most of all, self. It's very easy to become hyper-focused, over-involved, and unable to separate "self" from "situation." This is very common, normal, and at the same time, dangerous.
Caregiving can affect your health. Simply put, caregiving is far from easy. Physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually-speaking - it takes all you’ve got.
What’s more, caregiving can unearth strong feelings, and moods that run the gamut from ecstasy to loathing. Unbeknownst to you, you may be found at fault for things outside your control at any given time.
Caregivers come in many different forms, there is no right way to care and that if we can take care as well as give it and make peace with the experiences along the way, it can be a transformative journey.
Caregiver Burnout can happen to any caregiver. You care, and you give… and you give… of your heart and your strength.
The very qualities that make one an excellent caregiver - empathy, identification, safety, trust, intimacy and power - are the very qualities that can cause one to face burnout. Learning to recognize the symptoms within oneself that indicate heightened stress is imperative to addressing, relieving and avoiding it. Stress unchecked will lead to caregiver burnout.
Those who have experienced compassion fatigue describe it as being sucked into a vortex that pulls them slowly downward. They have no idea how to stop the downward spiral, so they do what they've always done: They work harder and continue to give to others until they're completely tapped out.
Burnout isn't like a cold.
You don't always notice it when you are in its clutches. Very much like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, the symptoms of burnout can begin surfacing months after a traumatic episode. Pay close attention and examine yourself honestly. Especially your reactions in the primary care setting. Because if you are getting caregiver burnout - or already have it - it's not healthy for either you or your loved one, and the situation absolutely must be addressed!
Misconceptions of the carers role:
- I will "fix" the problem... make everything o.k.
- I'm responsible for outcomes.
- If i care enough, everything will be o.k.
- The sufferer, the person I care for, will appreciate everything I do for them.
- I will have enough resources (time, money, material, skills and training) to fix things.
- Significant people in my life with support and approve my absence from our relationship while I invest in the compassionate mission being a carer for my love one.
- I know what I'm getting into
- I can do this alone.
- If I'm spiritual enough, I can deal with the stress - of working with suffering people.
Putting Up a Good Front
How could anyone guess how things are breaking down behind the scenes? Your family and friends are all so caught up in their own lives, and you are trying your best to pretend nothing is wrong, so it is a rare person indeed that can see beyond the facade and guess the true nature of what you are going through behind closed doors. It is difficult enough to schedule a date to get together socially, and when you are finally able to get together with friends and family you are hesitant to discuss your personal situation. Everyone has problems, and you can’t expect them to celebrate you as their peerless hero.
Meanwhile, you can’t recall what the word “social” means, because you’re constantly on call.
You have to do your job and you are a caregiver in your “spare time”. Quite often, the only alone time you have is the hour’s commute to work and back, which can be its own little issue depending on traffic. By the time you get home from work, you’re exhausted, and often have trouble thinking straight.
To those who are in the throes of compassion fatigue or burnout , time, or more precisely the lack of it, is the enemy. To compensate, many caregivers try to do several things at once (e.g., eat lunch while returning telephone calls). And to make more time, they tend to eliminate the very things that would help revitalize them: regular exercise, interests outside of caregiving, relaxed meals, time with family and friends, prayer and meditation.
The Carer - a Hidden Hero
Caregiving is Love in its most advanced stages, Caregiving, whether you are a known or unknown giver of it, is a beautiful thing, and you are beautiful to provide it. This can be easy to lose sight of when you don’t get recognition, when nobody notices how your own life as you once knew it is totally unrecognizable. You feel invisible, under-appreciated, and frustrated. And in many ways you are. By now you must realize that you’re the Hidden Caregiver!
The tiring, endless demands and stresses are going to be there for any caregiver. Whether they reach the point of actual caregiver burnout depends in part on how you are able to handle them emotionally and hold up physically, and if you can get the support you need both for your loved one and for yourself.
Doctor appointments that must be scheduled; the constant care and attention your loved one needs, both physically and emotionally; the back and forth to grocery stores, drug stores, physical therapy sessions and, most of all, the need to know you are doing the "right thing" for loved one in need of your care. We all know the daily challenges we face as caregivers and that we seldom have time for ourselves.
If you juggle career with sleepless nights as a caregiver, you are going to be exhausted. If you are caring for children and parents at the same time along with your own financial stresses, you are going to be more than exhausted. No question about it. Even with good caregiving help for your loved one while you're working.
But you might not even be able to get the help you need for caring for your loved one, or for taking care of the house and the finances. Or simply to give you a break!
Has your Caregiver Stress blossomed to the point of caregiver burnout?
Perhaps you have felt your own attitude change from positive and caring to negative, snappy, or simply wanting to turn away and bury yourself somewhere. You wanted to scream! Well, know that you are definitely not alone. It is a common caregiver hazard. And it's a warning sign to take care of YOU. Otherwise, you are no good to anyone else, much less to yourself. And without some changes, it will get worse.
You may even have wanted to hurt your loved one or yourself. If it's reached that point for more than a frustrated moment of just wanting to shake him back into reality, or shake her to stop yelling for you incessantly in the middle of the night for something that's totally unnecessary - don't wait! GET HELP!
To recharge your batteries you must first learn to recognize when you're wearing down and then get into the habit of doing something every day that will replenish you. That's not as easy as it sounds. Old habits are oddly comfortable even when they're bad for us, and real lifestyle changes take time (some experts say six months), energy and desire.
The first line of action is prioritize situations so you have some measure of control.
- What do I have control over?
- Who is in charge here?
- What do I really need to change?
- What do I see as necessary that really is not?
- Will the world stop spinning if I do not do ____?
Make these statements to your daily mantra
- I'm responsible for my task, God is responsible for the outcomes.
- I'm not God
- I Value Small Victories
- Who I am is as important to the mission as what I do.
- Their pain is not my pain
- I Remember to Care for My Spirit, Emotions and Body so that there will be something left to give.
- Compassion Fatigue - Caregiver Burnout is not a character flaw.
The Development of Burnout
The Irritability phase
- You begin to cut corners
- You begin to avoid the person you care for
- You begin to denigrate the people you care for
- You use inappropriate humor
- You have lapses of concentration and make some mistakes.
- You start to distancing yourself from friends , family members, colleagues.
2. The withdrawal phase:
- Your enthusiasm about caring turns sour
- You are tired all the time, don't want to talk about what you do
- You complain about your work life and personal life
- You start to neglect your family,the person you care for, colleagues and yourself
- You try to avoid your pain and sadness.
Are you burning your candle from both sides?
Here is a quick listing of some of the myriad manifestations of caregiver burnout. Do you have a significant number of these?
- Feelings of depression.
- A sense of ongoing and constant fatigue.
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Anger and irritability
- Mood swings
- Lowered self - esteem
- Self - medication
- Decreasing interest in work.
- Decrease in work production.
- Withdrawal from social contacts.
- Increase in use of stimulants and alcohol.
- Increasing fear of death.
- Change in eating patterns.
- Feelings of helplessness.
- Loss of interest in your appearance and grooming
- Change in sleep patterns or sleeplessness
- Decreased productivity or lack of interest in work
- Feeling increased stress and anxiety over even minor things.
- Despairingly blaming yourself for your inability to meet unrealistic demands.
- Feeling everything is out of control, and you don't see a way out.
- Loss of energy and constant feeling of exhaustion, emotionally and physically.
- Feeling helpless, hopeless, or on the verge of tears often.
- Overreacting to minor things and snapping much too quickly.
- Frequent indigestion, loss of appetite, more headaches and body aches.
- Significant weight gain or loss, or change in eating patterns.
- Scattered thinking, inability to concentrate, or trapped in circular thinking.
- Feeling increasingly resentful, angry, bitter, or blaming yourself or others.
- Loss of interest in favorite activities and hobbies.
- Withdrawal from anything social, avoidance of friends and family.
- Feeling it takes too much energy to interact with others and do things.
- Inability to relax, feeling there is always something you must be doing.
- Engaging in nervous habits such as binging, chain smoking, drinking.
- Feeling you want to hurt yourself or your charge.
- Having increasing thoughts of death.
- Increasing use of medications for anxiety, depression, sleep, stomach.
- Feeling physically run down and getting sick much more often
Have Your Own Self - Care Plan
You must get help for the sake of your loved one and yourself!
Do you, like most caregivers, feel guilty for even wanting to spend a little time on yourself? For wanting to go out for some fresh air for even half an hour? Go to dinner or a movie or a favorite sporting event with your friends? Or to have a quiet reading time, go to church, get your hair cut . . . even to take care of your own exercise and health needs?
It's time to think about YOU. If you don't take care of the caregiver, then who's to take care of your loved one?
YOU NEED TIME - time to reflect, relax and rejuvenate for at least few hours each week. This "private time" gives us a renewed strength to carry on. It's important to take that time. You deserve it and not feel guilty about it. There are ways to allow yourself time away. For an hour, a day or even a weekend to collect your thoughts and get back on track. It's okay to do that. Listen, you've got a very important role to play - if you do not care for yourself, who will step in to care for you AND your loved one.
In order to remain healthy so that you can continue to be a Caregiver, you must be able to see your own limitations and learn to care for yourselves as well as others. It is important for you to make the effort to recognize the signs of burnout.
The lifestyle changes you choose to make will depend on your unique circumstances, but three things can speed your recovery.
Spend plenty of quiet time alone.
Learning mindfulness meditation is an excellent way to ground yourself in the moment and keep your thoughts from pulling you in different directions. The ability to reconnect with a spiritual source will also help you achieve inner balance and can produce an almost miraculous turnaround, even when your world seems its blackest.
Recharge your batteries daily.
Something as simple as committing to eat better and stopping all other activities while eating can have an exponential benefit on both your psyche and your physical body. A regular exercise regimen can reduce stress, help you achieve outer balance and re-energize you for time with family and friends.
Hold one focused, connected and meaningful conversation each day.
This will jump start even the most depleted batteries. Time with family and close friends feeds the soul like nothing else and sadly seems to be the first thing to go when time is scarce.
- Plan time to be alone. (even 5 minutes can be a life saver)
- Develop a personal relaxation method.
- Claim a place that belongs to you alone for personal time.
- Dress comfortably in clothes you like.
- Take a bubble bath.
- Hire a sitter for an hour/evening.
- Make and keep a regular date with significant other or friend.
- Go for a drive, roll down the windows and crank up the radio.
- Reduce all sensory input. (dim lights, turn off TV's, radios and phones, put on comfy clothes)
- Read a book.
- Light some candles.
- Order dinner delivered.
- Get a massage.
- Take time to be sexual.
- Plan and get enough sleep.
- Eliminate unnecessary activities in life.
- Eat regular and healthful meals.
- Dance, walk, run, swim, play sports, sing or some other physical activity that is enjoyable.
- Try something fun and new.
- Write or call a friend.
- Give yourself affirmations/praise...you are worth it!
- Find things that make you laugh and enjoy them.
- Prayer or meditation.
- Let something go for a day. The world does not stop spinning if the beds are left unmade.
- When energy is flagging, a B Complex supplement is very helpful.
What works for one person in avoiding or relieving stress differs from the next. It could take some experimentation or willingness to try something new to discover what really helps. Once found, practice often. If, after trying several things on a regular basis and not finding significant relief, consider that you may be suffering from depression and/or anxiety and consult with a mental health professional.