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Five Causes of Caregiver Burnout

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Lack of rest, high stress, and emotional exhaustion can adversely impact the ability to provide care.

Caregiver burnout can be a very real and detrimental result of providing full-time care to a loved one. It can impact your ability to carry on normal everyday activities, hold down a job and care for your family. It can even result in apathy and a lack of compassion for the loved one in your care, which puts them at risk as well. Knowing the causes of burnout can help identify them and address them as soon as they occur.

The five most common causes of caregiver burnout:

Emotional Exhaustion. Watching a loved one decline can be one of the most challenging aspects of caregiving. As much as you want to ease his or her pain and suffering, you cannot stop the decline, especially if it is caused by dementia. You want to do the right thing for your loved one. You want to ensure that they are well fed, warm, comfortable and at ease. Accomplishing this may come at great personal expense to you as you forfeit time with friends and family members. You may become increasingly exhausted as you often can’t disengage from your caregiving responsibilities. This push and pull creates deep emotional exhaustion and is one of the most common causes of caregiver burnout. It is important for caregivers to have strong self-care strategies in place so that they have a break from caregiving responsibilities and refresh themselves with good food, exercise and the company of friends.

Physical Exhaustion. The longer you are a caregiver, the more physically exhausted you may become. You realize that you have less energy than you once had. You may experience increased sleep disturbances, or despite a good night’s sleep you wake up exhausted. As your sleep becomes increasingly disrupted, anxiety, stress and depression can increase. You may notice that you are becoming sick more often, catching colds and other illnesses more frequently than before. If caregiving interrupts your ability to eat well and drink enough water, these interruptions tend to contribute to your physical exhaustion. All of these signs point directly to caregiver burnout.

Stress Increases. Stress creates its own symptoms. You may feel as though you have less tolerance for daily events and obstacles and begin to have physical symptoms that can range from headaches to backaches. Stress can make you feel impatient, anxious, depressed, isolated and worried. It can also make you begin to feel like you are alone and no one is there to support you. Stress affects each individual differently, but if are beginning to experience adverse physical effects, it may indicate that you are experiencing symptoms of caregiver burnout.

Lack of Respite. Caregivers may believe that they cannot leave a senior in their care to take a break. This can result in loneliness, isolation, and despair. Those feelings can result in apathy and hopelessness. When a caregiver feels like they cannot get a break from caregiving duties, they begin to separate themselves from it mentally. That is a sign of compassion fatigue and a significant contributor to caregiver burnout. Taking regular breaks from caregiving, whether it is for an hour or a day is essential to maintaining the ability to be a compassionate, engaged caregiver over the long-term.

Lack of Support. Caregivers often care for a loved one without a support network. That may be okay at the beginning of the caregiving duties, but as your loved one’s condition worsens and responsibilities become more intense, support is necessary. Physicians, nurses, care managers, in-home caregivers, social workers, clergy, friends and family members can offer important support. The ability to talk about the pressures of caregiving can be its own type of therapy. In fact, talk therapy is considered an important tool in relieving stress for those who care for a loved one.

It’s important to know these causes and recognize any signs of burnout in their early stages. Caregiver burnout can prevent you from caring for a loved one in the manner you wish. Your individual health is just as important as that of your loved one. For more information on how to prevent caregiver burnout while caring for an aging parent or loved one, check out our suggestions on the five most effective tips and strategies here.

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