Caregiving is a rewarding profession but it can also be stressful. With an ageing population and increasing demand for caregivers, especially for dementia care, Canadian caregivers are facing a higher level of stress and exhaustion as they juggle client demands, personal lives, and recently, the pressure created by the pandemic and lockdowns. The impact of these stresses can be insidious and can result in caregivers neglecting their own mental health and well-being, which can lead to burnout.
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Stressed caregivers experience fatigue, anxiety and depression. It impacts their attitude, work performance and personal lives, and can put the safety of their clients and families at risk.
In a previous article, we talked about how to avoid stress. In this article, we discuss the causes and impact of burnout, and how to prevent caregiver burnout and manage it.
1. Early Warning Signs of Caregiver Burnout
There are certain signs which can signal the onset of burnout. Being aware of these signs can reduce the chances of total burnout. Here are a few early signs that you as a caregiver should learn to pick as early indications of impending burnout.
- Anxiousness – You may start feeling anxious about everything and develop doubts about your ability to care for your client although you are a trained and skilled professional.
- Depression – You may have symptoms of depression such as lethargy and irritability.
- Exhaustion – You may have low energy levels that are unexplainable.
- Reclusion – You may start avoiding people and stop socializing.
- Helplessness – You may develop feelings of helplessness and start believing that you have no control over your life.
- Irritability – You may get irritated quickly and become argumentative and angry.
- Loss of interest – You may stop taking interest in your hobbies or activities you normally enjoy. For example, you may lose interest in your favourite shows or stop listening to your favourite music.
- Self-negligence – You may stop taking care of your hygiene and grooming. You may fall sick but avoid seeking medical help. Falling ill may become a routine due to reduced immunity.
2. Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
When burnout does happen, many of the above symptoms will get worse. In addition, the following symptoms may happen :
- Headaches and Body Pains – You may suffer from headaches and body pains, which hinder you from providing quality senior care.
- Appetite changes and weight fluctuations – You may see an abnormal increase or decrease in appetite, and changes in your weight.
- Insomnia – You may be unable to sleep or develop irregular sleep patterns.
- Lack of concentration – Your levels may drop significantly, and you may become easily distracted.
3. How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
If you feel like you are approaching burnout, or are already burned out, you may want to take some of the following steps to address it :
- Find someone to talk to – It does not matter if the person is a family member or a colleague. You should be able to share your thoughts and emotions with them. Talking to a therapist is also a good option.
- Take regular breaks – Take regular breaks throughout the day. You may also ask your employer to give you an extended break – it is better to raise this as soon as you start feeling like you are approaching burnout so the families have time to arrange for a backup.
- Join a support group – You may want to join a caregiver forum or a support group. Talking about the issues you face (while maintaining client confidentiality) is a terrific way to get relief from mental worries. Your peers may also be able to give you tips on how to manage burnout.
- Learn to say no to extra work – If your client’s care needs become more complex, or if the care plan requires you to do too many tasks not related to the care of your client, it’s ok to let your employer know that you will not be able to do it. You can ask for a revision of the care plan so you are only asked to perform critical duties and trivial tasks can be delegated to someone else.
- Stay social – Meet family and friends over the weekends and go out to socialize. Caregiving does not mean a commitment of twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Canadian labour laws restrict the maximum hours an employee can work in a week and impose requirements for daily and weekly rest. You should be familiar with your rights as an employee.
- Practice self-care – You should learn to unwind after a full days’ work. Try to incorporate self-care routines, such as exercise, relaxing in bed or even just having a healthy drink such as tea in your daily schedule.
- Stay healthy – Eat healthy meals and exercise regularly – if possible do it with the person you are caring for. It is imperative not to delay going to doctors in case of any illness.
- Get enough sleep – Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every day. It will help you recover your energy and allow you to provide quality care to your clients.
For their own well-being and to provide quality and safe care to their clients, it is important that caregivers learn to identify early indicators of burnout and learn techniques to prevent caregiver burnout. Most importantly, before caring for others, caregivers must learn to care for themselves.
Our partner, the Ontario Caregiver Organizations, also has several helpful resources for family and professional caregivers. We encourage you to explore them at: https://ontariocaregiver.ca/resources-education/caregiver-resources/