Caregiver burnout is a problem, whether the caregivers are professionals or family members. Many caregivers experience multiple signs and symptoms of stress and burnout, and those symptoms can lead to problems in delivering care. Some signs of caregiver burnout are lack of energy, fatigue, depression, mood swings, increased irritability, decreased patience, weight changes, sleep problems, physical ailments, lowered resistance to illness, and more. There are even studies that show the mortality rates in caregivers is higher than in the “normal” population. So, what can be done?
A new study performed by researchers at Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University showed that providing support for professional caregivers (who are also mothers) reduced the caregivers’ depression and other signs of stress. The study, “Fostering resilience among mothers under stress: ‘Authentic Connections Groups’ for medical professionals,” was published in Women’s Health Issues in April 2017.
They studied 40 professional female caregivers who were also mothers – one group of 21 that received the intervention (an hour per week of the Authentic Connections Groups (ACGs)) and one group of 19 that received one hour per week of free time to use as they desired. The ACGs involved 12 weekly one-hour support group sessions their workplace.
The study had two major results. First, those who participated in the ACGs had a significantly greater reduction in depression and other symptoms of stress than the control group that was provided with free time. What they also found was that the gains seen in the ACG group remained pronounced even three months after the ACG program ended. According to the study assessment results, there were notable differences between the two groups in many areas, including depression and stress, parenting stress, feeling love, having self-compassion, and physical affection. Additionally, women in the ACG group showed greater reductions in cortisol levels at the end of the intervention period and again at the 3-month follow-up. Cortisol is a chemical the body produces in response to stressors, so the lower cortisol levels in the ACG group is a physical indicator that those women were experiencing reduced stress.
There are other studies that support these findings. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Nursing showed that nearly one-third of unpaid caregivers report they don’t experience any negative effects from caregiving. They actually believe they experience positive effects. What do these caregivers have in common? They tend to have strong, effective support systems and feel good about helping others and being part of their support systems.
The potential negative effects of caregiving are not limited to women, mothers, or healthcare professionals. All caregivers are at risk for experiencing caregiver burnout. But with the right support and respite care breaks, many of the negative effects can be prevented or mitigated.
If you’re a caregiver, we recommend seeking out all the support you can get. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness – and it can help both you and the person or people you care for. If you’re in need of additional support for a loved one, but cannot afford professional care, please check out and apply for one of our respite care grants.