By: Henry C. Weatherby, Esq., CLU, ChFC, CEBS
Many of our clients are caring for or being cared for by a loved one. More than 65 million Americans care for family members who need assistance due to chronic conditions, disabilities, disease, or the frailties of old age. These millions of family caregivers may include spouses, parents, or children of the person receiving care. Even when family members are not providing direct care themselves, they are often still the ones who arrange for and manage the care their loved ones need. These people are still part of the caregiving team and share in the emotional and financial stresses that can result from being a caregiver. Caregivers are often so focused on the needs of the person for whom they are caring that they forget to care for themselves. This puts them at risk for caregiver burnout.
Caregiver burnout is the physical and mental exhaustion caused by the prolonged stress of being a caregiver. If you are a caregiver, you may not even realize that what you are experiencing is burnout or that there are things you can and should do to make things better. If you are acting as a loved one’s caregiver, be alert for signs that could indicate that what you are feeling is more than just being a little bit tired. Take a look at the following list of symptoms of caregiver burnout to see if any of them apply to you:
- Trouble sleeping or regularly oversleeping without feeling rested
- Appetite changes, such as not being able to eat or overeating
- Increased sugar consumption, use of alcohol or drugs, increased smoking or a strong desire to start smoking again after having quit
- Frequent headaches, body aches, or back pain, increased reliance on over-the-counter pain medications or prescriptions
- Irritability or impatience, a tendency to snap at everyone, overreacting to criticism or to small inconveniences
- Feelings of anger or resentment toward a spouse, child, or older care recipient
- High levels of stress or anxiety
- Depression, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of alienation even from those who offer help
- Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, missing appointments
- Lack of energy to participate in activities you enjoy, withdrawing from others in your social or family circle
If some of these symptoms apply to you, there is something you can do about it:
- Protect your health. See your doctor regularly, eat a healthy diet, get sufficient rest, and make time to exercise. Stress doesn’t just affect you emotionally; it can also take a physical toll.
- Develop a strong support system. Find a support group where you can share your situation and learn coping strategies. Talk to supportive friends and family. See a counselor or therapist to help you deal with the emotional impact of being a caregiver.
- Accept help! Share responsibilities with other family members and friends. Forgive yourself for not being able to do everything – no one can. Giving yourself a break will allow you to be a better caregiver to your loved one. Learn to say no when your responsibilities become too much and identify people you can reach out to when you need a hand. look into respite care, a short-term care arrangement that can provide a break for family caregivers. The time period for respite care can vary from a couple of days to a couple of months. It can also take different forms. You may prefer to find an in-home option or choose to arrange a temporary stay at a local assisted living community.
- Stay involved with the things that make you happy. Make time for your hobbies and other interests. Read a book. Take a yoga class. Meet a friend for dinner or a movie. Don’t count running errands or doing chores as a break. Take a real break from time to time and do something for yourself.