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I live in Los Angeles, where I write and blog under the California sun.

Do You Recognize These 5 Signs of Caregivers Burnout?

Being a caregiver whether to an aging parent, sick spouse or child with special needs is one of the hardest jobs out there. You are rarely off duty. You know the pressures and pain of suffering first-hand. And you are likely in it for the long haul.

In 2010  our daughter Mathilda developed narcolepsy and cataplexy. The first few years are in some ways a blur of exhaustion and panic. Not a good combination. Then came the grieving process. Since that time, the Professor and I have come to terms with our new life and for the most part that has been positive, but there have been weeks when I have had to take a hard and close-up look at whether or not I am as healthy as I could be.

Pretty early on we realized that our health was paramount. As the Professor has said to me on numerous occasions, “if you go down, we all sink with you.”  His comment is part compliment, part wake-up call.  So here’s what I’ve learnt along the way as a caregiver.

Do you recognize any of these signs of caregiver burnout in yourself?

1. You can’t face the effort of socializing and going out: even an extrovert will struggle with socializing if feeling blue. It’s a horrible result of needing to withdraw and protect oneself. My parents used to call me “10-things-a-day-Claire”. It’s true that once I had a huge capacity for getting things done and being with people. I thrived on connection, contribution and collaboration.

Now? Not so much. I think I have slipped along the scale towards introversion as a result of being so tired and the need to re-focus my energy. I am not unhappy about that. It is just a reality that I have accepted and adjusted too. However, it might be  a red flag to people who sense social withdrawal when it is atypical. It might be a sign that you are bordering on burnout.

 
 

Answer?  Invest in a handful of friends you love you and accept where you are at. Choose to do things that are important and life-giving for your family. Rationalize the stuff that doesn’t matter or you can’t cope with. Have something to look forward to like a break where you are not on duty. I find a weekend away somewhat unrealistic but date night with a special meal, a few candles and my favorite people work a treat. It’s a small thing but it goes a long way to staying connected.

2.  Your are prone to depression: depression and anxiety can creep up on caregivers like the proverbial thief in the night. But there are some widely recognizable signs and symptoms that are helpful to be aware of before you need to see your doctor.

  • Loss of interest in hobbies.
  • Poor sleeping habits/abuse of sleeping pills.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Reduced desire to exercise.
  • Unhealthy eating habits/skipping meals.
  • Irritability.
  • Loss of focus and concentration.
  • Difficulty making decisions.
 
 


Answer?  Keep your health checks with the doctor. Think hard and realistically about what you need to change and if you can’t do it alone, find a support group. For caregivers who find it hard to get out and make time for themselves, the internet is a huge resource for changing habits. There are apps for almost everything–exercise, improving sleep hygiene and eliminating unhealthy habits like alcohol abuse. I am no athlete but I found an app on my phone called “running” which lets me amble along, breaking onto a 2 minute jog now and then and 35 minutes later I am back home. It’s hardly triathlon training but it works well for me. I need to the app to keep me motivated on days when I would rather stay in.

3. You get every bug that comes your way: caregivers are typically immuno-suppressed which means you are more susceptible to catching bugs. It is a sign of not being as healthy as you should be due to the chronic high levels of stress. For those who are perpetually exhausted the health risks can be even greater. I am thinking of diabetes, strokes, heart disease and such like. The list is long and frightening.

 
 

Answer?  Have you tried multi-vitamins and essential oils ? Clary-calm is great for stress and lavender and marjoram for sleep. I am sure there’s more but I am just beginning to learn about the benefits of essential oils and so far I love them. Week day evenings I try and have a long wind down period as I know if I rush bedtime, I won’t sleep so well. Sleep in our house is elusive so I need to do what I can to make sure that the time I have to sleep is good quality.

 4. The slightest inconvenience tips you over the edge: as soon I hear the dishwasher rattle, or see the bathroom sink blocking up I am close to tears. Why? It’s not because care that much about utilities but because I don’t have the time, energy or resources to get them fixed. Anything on top of the daily responsibilities of caring for a loved one can be overwhelming. Sound familiar?

 
 

Answer?  Try not to sweat the small stuff, but do priorities the important stuff. I mention the sink because one of them is actually broken and has been for several weeks. But we have more than one basin in the house so it’s hardly the end of the world.

5. You harbor an irrational fear of the future: It might be irrational but it might not. You’ve already been through the ringer and your head tells you that it could happen again. When you hear sirens, you think of your teenager who is out with friends. When the phone rings you expect terrible news.

 
 

Answer?  I am not sure I have one. Harboring an irrational fear of the future still applies to me, although in real terms the phone mostly rings because of changes to car-pool or it’s a sales call telling me that I have just won  a condo in Cabo!

 

I love hearing from friends who might have other useful sources of information. We can learn so much from each other. Why not drop me a line?

 

With grateful thanks to the Professor who is the first to recognize when I am sinking and the first to help. 

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