Caregiver burnout is something you may not notice, but people you know may notice changes in you and express their concern. Here are some signs of caregiver burnout:
•Being on the verge of tears or crying a lot
•Feeling helpless or hopeless
•Overreacting to minor nuisances
•Feeling constantly exhausted
•Losing interest in work
•Decrease in productivity of work
•Withdrawing from social contacts
•Increasing use of alcohol or stimulants
•Nervous habits such as chain smoking
•Change in eating patterns
•Change in sleeping patterns
•Increasing use of medications for sleeplessness, anxiety, depression
•Inability to relax
•Feeling increasingly resentful
•Being short-tempered with care recipient frequently
•Increasing thoughts of death
If you are so frustrated that you are afraid you will hurt your care receiver if you don’t find help right away, see Stage Three, section 2. “Avoid Abuse” is near the end of that section. Resources such as the telephone number of a twenty-four hour crisis and information line and a list of things you can do to cool down immediately are provided. Resources are also provided for suicide prevention, since caregivers and caregivers are among the people at risk of suicide.
If you are not in a crisis situation but want to avoid or relieve caregiver burnout, consider the suggestions below:
•Support group. Even though it seems that you have no time for your support group now, it is even more important to attend. Some people attend more than one group. Participants in your support group will understand how much the inability of some family members and friends to be with you and your care receiver now hurts, how hard it is to remain patient with some of your care receiver’s behaviors, and how frustrating trying to “navigate the system” to get affordable assistance can be. If you are attending support group meetings, you are also likely to hear about caregiver workshops that might provide further support. For more information, see Stage Two, section 3.
•Internet web sites that address caregiver feelings. One web site that explains the negative emotions that caregiving can cause is Beth Israel Medical Center’s site, Stop Pain, http://www.stoppain.org. The “For Caregivers” section of the Stop Pain web site includes “Emotional Needs”. Tips for coping follow checklists of feelings and physical symptoms that indicate anxiety, depression, guilt, etc. Find a “Fact Sheet on Caregiving and Depression” on the Family Caregiver Alliance web site, http://www.caregiver.org.
•Sharing your emotions can provide relief. Write out your anger in your journal as suggested in Stage Two. Reading and sharing caregiver stories may help you feel less isolated and alone. If you use the internet, ALZwell Caregiver Support, http://www.alzwell.com, is an example of a web site that gives caregivers a chance to share their stories and feelings. Look for chat rooms for caregivers on other sites. Many web sites offer tips for preventing caregiver stress and burnout. See the Caregiver Web Sites section in this Handbook online at http://www.agingcarefl.org/caregiver/Websites.
•Counseling. Consider counseling to deal with the natural feelings that come with caregiving, especially heavy-duty caregiving for someone whose mental and physical health is deteriorating. Among these are anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety, and guilt. Some feelings are part of the grieving process you and your care receiver are experiencing.
•A counselor can help you see things clearly and set goals for maintaining your own life while caregiving. It’s a good idea to talk with one while in the midst of caregiving. Unfortunately, many caregivers don’t take time for counseling until their caregiving days are over.
•Counselors have a variety of educational backgrounds. They include psychiatrists, who are medical doctors and who can prescribe medications if you need them but who may refer you to a different type of counselor to “talk things over,” psychotherapists, psychologists, licensed mental health counselors, licensed clinical social workers, clergy, and more.
•If you are a working caregiver, counseling may be provided as part of your health insurance package even if it is an HMO. Many health insurance providers use a subcontractor to provide counseling services, so you may not see a listing in your health insurance directory. Call your health insurance provider. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s), for those companies that offer them, may also cover counseling.
•If you are age sixty or over yourself, you may qualify for counseling under the Older Americans Act, Title III-B. Counseling may be available to the person for whom you are caring, also, if needed. These services are usually available without a long wait. There is no charge for services, but donations are accepted.
Also, see http://www.aginginfousa.com/ for resources in helping assist you during your difficult time and in dealing with caregiving issues.