Caregiver Burnout: How to Cope

A recent report published by the National Alliance for Caregivers and AARP indicates
that more than 1 in 5 Americans provide care to another adult, most without
compensation. Meanwhile, adequate care demands, on average, more than 24 hours a
week. Based on Ohio’s minimum wage (updated as of 2024), that translates into, again
on average, $250/week and over $13,000/year in uncompensated care provided to one
person. But that doesn’t mean the care doesn’t come with a cost…

It shouldn’t be surprising that caregivers often put so much time and energy into caring
for a loved one that they neglect to take proper care of themselves. This phenomenon,
known as “caregiver burnout,” is now all too prevalent. Caregiver burnout is
characterized by physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that may devolve into a
negative and resentful attitude toward the person needing care. In addition to a worsening
mental state, caregivers may also feel guilt for spending time on themselves rather than
on caring for their loved one.

If you are a caregiver in your family, it’s fair and necessary that you recognize the scope
of the work and challenges in front of you, and you have to pay attention to the signs that
you may be trying to do too much or aren’t taking care of yourself.

A caregiver should periodically ask him-/herself the following questions to see if burnout
is on the near horizon (if not already in the rearview):

  • Am I getting a full night’s sleep regularly?
  • Am I exhausted even after a full night’s sleep?
  • Do I feel like my entire life revolves around caregiving, but I don’t get any satisfaction from it?
  • Do I get sick or achy often?
  • Am I unable to relax?
  • Have I been impatient with or demonstrated a short temper with the person I’m caring for?
  • Have I lost interest in activities you once enjoyed? Am I still doing any of those activities?
  • Do I often feel helpless, sometimes even hopeless?

If a caregiver answers yes to some of these questions and didn’t feel this way until starting as a caregiver, he or she may be approaching burnout.

If this is you… you need to start caring for yourself.

Understand that caregiver burnout is not unusual. In fact, it’s much more common than you may think. Remember, there are over 50 million of you caretakers right now. While knowing that others are experiencing the same thing doesn’t alleviate your specific pain, know that you’re not alone. And it’s OK to feel what you’re feeling.

Here are a few things you can do if you feel like you’re experiencing (or about to experience) caregiver burnout:

  • Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s illness and how to best care for them in their current and evolving condition.
  • Recognize your own physical and emotional limits and take a more practical approach to how much time and effort you can reasonably dedicate to your loved one. Be sure to convey those limits to health care providers and other family members.
  • Learn to accept your feelings related to being a caregiver, including emotions such as anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief.
  • Talk to others. Communicating your state of mind with friends and family members can provide a sense of relief and help you overcome feelings of isolation. You may find that others want to help.
  • Ask for help! Needing help doesn’t mean you’re an ineffective caregiver. It just means that you can’t do it alone. Truly, none of us can… and none of us should have to.

While others may not be willing to care for your loved one directly, if they’re helping you care for you, they’re absolutely helping. And who knows, maybe they’re willing and able to pitch in more directly.

You can also find support groups within the community, online, through your loved one’s doctor, and from organizations such as the local chapter of AARP, the Family Caregiver Alliance.

If you’d like to speak to a Certified Elder Law Attorney about elder care planning, caregiver agreements, or anything else on your mind as it relates to providing for a family member, please feel free to contact us. It doesn’t cost anything other than a little bit of your time. Let’s Talk!

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