Providing care for a loved one can be rewarding. But even when it’s a labor of love, it can lead to caregiver burnout – a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that can significantly impact your quality of life and make it difficult to provide effective care.
Competing responsibilities and overload
The phenomenon of caregiver stress and burnout is even more pronounced today. “People in the so-called sandwich generation, those providing care to both children and dependent parents, find themselves trying to do everything,” says Shazia Qamar, M.D., a family medicine physician at Henry Ford Health.
However, when you take care of others at the expense of your own health and emotional well-being, you risk courting caregiver burnout and degrading the quality of care you can give.
What are the symptoms of caregiver burnout?
In many ways, the signs of caregiver stress are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression, including:
- Trouble concentrating
- Social isolation
- Loss of interest in previous activities
- Insomnia or other sleep problems
- A weakened immune system
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Mood swings, including irritability and impatience with the loved one for whom you are caring – or feeling like you want to hurt yourself or them
What causes caregiver burnout?
Caregiver burnout results from spending so much time and energy caring for your loved ones that you neglect your own needs. “When this happens, you can start to lose perspective on the situation, and normally small issues can become inflated into crises,” explains Dr. Qamar.
This caregiver stress develops over time, from several key causes:
- Role confusion. Shifting into the role of caregiver can blur the lines in your normal relationship with your loved one. For example, interacting with your parent as both child and caregiver can cause confusion.
- Unrealistic expectations. When there is an underlying disease such as Alzheimer’s, a positive outcome from your caregiving efforts may be an unrealistic expectation.
- Lack of control. Trying to manage the extensive planning and organizing required by caregiving can make you feel powerless. Especially when you don’t have the necessary skills, money or other resources.
- Unreasonable demands. You may feel that caregiving is your exclusive responsibility. Your loved one or other family members may also assume this.
Getting help for your caregiver burnout
If you’re experiencing caregiver stress, there are several resources for more information or support. These include:
- Home health aides and nurses
- Private care aides to help coordinate care and services
- Adult day care
- Short-term, off-site respite care for your loved one
- Nursing homes or assisted living facilities
- Caregiver support groups and other programs
- Your local Agency on Aging or local AARP chapter
- Local caregiving organizations or local chapters of national organizations focused on providing support to people with progressive illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s.
Above all, remember that taking care of yourself will ultimately make you a better caregiver for your loved ones. Even though it can be challenging, ask for help if you need it, find moments for the activities that help you de-stress — reading, exercise, crafting, seeing friends, meditation — and take care of our own health care needs too.
Dr. Shazia Qamar is board-certified in family medicine and sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Chicago Road in Warren.