Caregivers can begin to feel more like a victim than a helper. Additionally, caregivers who have their own history of prior psychological trauma, mental illness (including substance abuse), or who lack social and family resources will be more vulnerable to burnout.
Burnout develops gradually, but its warning signs are recognizable beforehand. Knowing what signs to look for and what to do BEFORE A BURNOUT is critical.
Signs that you are headed for a burnout:
• An inability to stop thinking about the crisis or situation at hand.
• Loss of objectivity.
• An inability to make decisions, and/or express oneself either verbally or in writing.
• Overwhelming/Chronic fatigue and/or sleep disturbances.
• Gastrointestinal problems, headaches, and other aches and pains.
• Eating problems including eating too much or loss of one’s appetite.
• Suicidal thoughts and/or severe depression.
• Irritability leading to anger or rage.
• Intense cynicism and/or pessimism.
• Excessive worry
• Being upset or jealous of others who aren’t helping you during this situation.
• Significant agitation and restlessness.
• Alcohol and substance abuse.
• Withdrawal from contact with co-workers, friends, and/or family.
• Impulsive behaviors.
• Maintaining an unnecessary degree of contact/follow-up with trained professionals there to help.
• An inability to complete/return to normal job responsibilities.
• Attempts to work independently and thinking you can take care of everything yourself.
WHAT TO DO if you are experiencing these symptoms:
Whether it is in the aftermath of a serious crisis or during an extended period of high stress, unrelenting demand for support may result in burnout for even the most seasoned crisis caregivers, particularly if they themselves are feeling vulnerable due to the circumstances. Most of us are not trained crisis responders so therefore, the risk is higher for caregivers who are ill prepared.
Consequently all caregivers need to consider the following personal and professional suggestions to prevent burnout:
• Know your limitations and with what you feel reasonably comfortable or uncomfortable handling.
• Recognize that your reactions are normal and occur frequently among most caregivers (you’re not alone).
• To the extent possible, maintain normal daily routines (especially physical exercise activities, meal-time, and bed-time routines). Connect with trusted friends or family who can help take the edge off of the moment
• Give yourself permission to do things that you find pleasurable (e.g., going shopping or out to dinner with friends).
• Avoid using alcohol and drugs to cope with the effects of being a caregiver during times of crisis.
• Ask for support from family and friends in terms of reducing pressures or demands during the crisis response.
• Be sure to maintain healthy eating habits and drink plenty of water.
• Take periodic rest breaks at least every couple of hours.
• As much as possible, try to get some restful sleep, preferably without the use of sleep aids or alcohol.
• Take time at the end of each day to process or debrief the events of the day with other caregivers or colleagues.
• Be kind and gentle on yourself
If you feel you cannot control these symptoms please, by all means, don’t be afraid to get professional help!
References and resources:
Greenstone J. & Leviton S. (1993). Elements of crisis intervention: Crises and how to respond to them. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Mitchell, J. T., & Everly, G. S. (1996). Critical incident stress debriefing. Ellicott City, MD: Cheveron.
Mitchell, J. T., & Everly, G. S. (1998). Critical incident stress management: The basic course workbook (2nd ed.). Ellicott City, MD: International Critical Incident Stress Foundation.
Poland S., & McCormick J. (2000). Coping with crisis: A quick reference. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.