Caring for an ill or elderly loved one can take it out of you. Your days may be filled with driving them to doctor’s appointments and making sure they have their medicines. You may need to help them pay bills and keep their house clean. You may even need to help with personal care, like bathing and using the bathroom. And you’ve got your own responsibilities as well.
When you put a lot of energy into others’ needs, it’s easy to forget about your own. This can lead to a feeling of physical and emotional exhaustion called burnout. And it can creep up on you before you know it.
Here are some signs of caregiver burnout.
1. You’re always stressed.
Caring for a loved one can be stressful, especially when you also have a job and a family of your own. Worry, panic, and lack of focus can be signs of stress. Frequent colds or headaches, or the development of chronic illnesses, may signal that you are close to burnout.
2. You’re exhausted.
Fatigue is another sign that you may be burning out. Stress and worry can interfere with sleep. You may wake up several times a night if you are caring for a person who wanders or is at risk of falling out of bed. Having a bad night now and then is one thing, but if you feel tired all the time, you may be close to burnout.
3. You’re angry.
When you’re caring for a loved one who is elderly or ill, you may feel that you have to be upbeat and nice all the time. However, it’s natural to get frustrated or annoyed sometimes, especially if your loved one lashes out at you. But if you are often irritable or impatient, resent caregiving demands, or get angry over little things, you might be at risk of burnout.
4. You’re weepy.
It is hard to watch a loved one get sicker or struggle to care for themselves. You may think that you aren’t doing a good job or that you can’t make the person better. You may also feel guilt, regret, or grief. Feeling sad and crying sometimes is natural, especially if you are worn out. But if you burst into tears at the drop of a hat, that might be a sign of burnout.
5. You stop seeing friends.
Caregiving can take up a lot of your free time. You may feel too tired to see friends like you used to. You might fear that they won’t understand what you’re going through. This can make you feel alone just when you most need support. Caregiving responsibilities can mean that you have to cancel plans sometimes. But avoiding friends — whether it’s by ignoring texts or phone calls or making excuses for not getting together — is a sign you may be close to burnout.
6. You let your health slide.
When you’re a caregiver, stress and lack of sleep — and even too little fun — can mean that you let your own health slide. You might eat more junk food, or forget to eat at all. You’re less likely to exercise. You may put off your own medical or dental visits. If you have to do strenuous things as part of your loved one’s care — like helping them in and out of bed or pushing a wheelchair — you might get backaches. All these can be signs of caregiver burnout.
If you have signs of burnout, it is important to try to reduce stress. Join a caregiver support group so you don’t feel alone. Or seek out individual therapy to help you deal with your emotions. Hiring a professional caregiver for a few hours a week can help you recharge, perhaps by simply going for a walk or taking a nap.
You can’t provide the best care for your loved one unless you also take care of yourself.