Have you ever heard of caregiver burnout? You might be able to relate, even if you’re unfamiliar with the term. Recently I was in touch with Holistic Healing Counselling and asked them to provide practical tools to reduce the stress we can experience when providing long-term care to a relative or a friend. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this responsibility, read on for helpful tips.
Why is it important to talk about caregiver burnout?
According to Statistics Canada, in 2012, 3 in 10 Canadians provided care to a relative or friend with a long-term disability or health concern. Caregivers were also present in each age demographic group from 15 to over 75. The study found that many caregivers experienced significant physical, psychological, and financial stress from caregiving. When caregivers were taking care of a spouse or child, their level of psychological distress increased by up to 50%. Caregiver burnout takes a toll on the caregiver and it also means that they cannot effectively take care of those that they are responsible for. Furthermore, COVID-19 has placed an increased stress on caregivers and reduced their ability to access helpful resources. This combination highlights the importance that caregivers are equipped with tools to help reduce their likelihood of caregiver burnout.
Caregiving can be a very meaningful experience that also takes an emotional and physical toll on the caregiver. Caregiver stress can quickly increase with unpredictable events such as the declining health of a loved one or the increased isolation of COVID-19. Some caregivers may also feel ashamed or guilty to ask for help. However, without proper intervention and support, caregiver stress can quickly turn into burnout which can lead to negative health outcomes for both the caregiver and their care recipient. In this blog, we’ll talk about what caregiver burnout looks like and practical tools caregivers can use to cope with stress.
What It’s All About
Research suggests that caregivers can experience burnout similar to health care professionals. If you are a caregiver, one of the ways you can protect yourself is by understanding caregiver burnout as well as knowing risk factors, warning signs and when to seek help. Caregiver burnout results from chronic and cumulative stress experienced by a caregiver. Caregiver burnout often looks like the caregiver disconnecting from the care recipient, struggling to function daily, and losing the sense of meaning and fulfillment they once found in caregiving. Caregiver burnout is characterized by the following three components:
Emotional exhaustion: you are so emotionally drained you can no longer function in your role as a caregiver, ordinary daily tasks feel impossible.
Depersonalization: you feel emotionally detached or indifferent towards the person you care for.
Low Levels of Personal Accomplishment in Caregiving: you struggle to feel satisfaction or a sense of accomplishment as a caregiver, you are constantly doubting yourself.
There are many risk factors that influence a caregiver’s likelihood of developing caregiver burnout. Some of the risk factors include being female, having poor social support, having poor coping skills, having lower monthly income, and having depression or anxiety symptoms.
Warning Signs for Caregiver Burnout
While there is no set timeline for when caregiver stress can turn into burnout if you are a caregiver experiencing the following signs and symptoms consider getting professional support from a physician or mental health professional:
· You feel angry that the person you care for can no longer do what they used to.
· You are withdrawing from friends and activities that bring you joy as a caregiver.
· You feel depressed and struggle to find meaning or fulfillment in caregiving.
· You feel anxious about the future and facing another day.
· You’re exhausted to the point where it feels impossible to finish daily tasks.
· You are struggling to sleep because of your endless to-do list.
· Your irritability or anger triggers negative reactions towards the person you care for.
· Your caregiver stress is beginning to take a toll on your physical or emotional health.
Protective Factors against Caregiver Burnout
There are many protective factors against caregiver burnout including having strong social support networks, feeling confident in your role as a caregiver, using healthy strategies to cope with caregiver stress, and finding meaning in your role as a caregiver.
Practical Ways to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
Accepting the Ambivalence of Caregiving:
One of the common challenges that caregivers face is learning to accept the ambivalent or contradictory feelings of caregiving. Ambivalence can look like feeling both a deep love and resentment towards the person you care for. Ambivalence can also look like finding joy in caregiving while also grieving your life before becoming a caregiver. In these moments of ambivalence, we can feel guilty or blame ourselves for even thinking negatively about our loved ones or being a caregiver. But in reality, caregivers are human too and having mixed emotions about a particular person or event is a common human experience. The next time you feel these mixed emotions- instead of avoiding them or blaming yourself- try naming all your emotions out loud or writing them down. Grief and Joy. Love and Resentment. Hope and Fear. By learning to accept all the emotions of caregiving, the heavy emotions won’t feel so consuming… and you can learn to fully appreciate the pleasant emotions that can come from caregiving.
New research from Lloyd et. al (2019) suggests that caregivers who practice self-compassion report less caregiver burnout and are more likely to use healthy coping strategies. Caregiver self-compassion consists of three parts:
a) being kind to yourself instead of being self-critical
b) accepting that mistakes happen and that as a caregiver you are human too
c) mindfully observing painful thoughts or feelings instead of avoiding them or overidentifying with them.
As a caregiver one of the ways you can challenge the voice of self-criticism is imagining the kindness and compassion you show the person you care for. What kind words can you offer yourself when you’re struggling?
Finding Nonjudgmental Support
Strong social and professional support are essential protective factors against caregiver burnout. Research shows that when you are connected with people who understand what you are going through, you are more resilient to face difficult life experiences. Support groups provide a place for you to feel validated in your experience as a caregiver as well as connect with other caregivers, so you don’t feel alone in your journey. Holistic Healing Counselling is running a support group specifically for caregivers to both teach tools to prevent caregiver burnout and to connect caregivers with people who are experiencing similar situations.
Another source of non-judgmental support is one-on-one counselling. Counselling provides a nonjudgmental space for you to openly discuss the challenges of caregiving and also learn helpful tools such as self-compassion, boundary-setting and emotional regulation to reduce caregiver stress and improve your relationship with the person you care for. It also allows you to more deeply dig into your personal triggers and process past experiences which may be contributing to current levels of caregiver distress. Our specialized caregiver counsellor (link) is trained in interventions and techniques to understand the root of the issues and help you integrate new strategies to improve your overall quality of life. Protecting your well-being as a caregiver not only will reduce your risk of developing burnout but will also strengthen your ability to provide compassionate care to others which in turn helps you to connect more deeply with the joy of caregiving.
The Bottom Line
Understanding caregiver burnout and its warning signs is the first step to coping with stress as a caregiver. In this blog, we talked about practical tools such as seeking nonjudgmental support from others, learning to accept all emotions that come from caregiving, and learning to treat yourself with compassion. If you are feeling stressed and isolated in your role as a caregiver, we have support available for you. Consider joining one of our caregiver support groups here. Online caregiver counselling is also available if you prefer to work 1-on-1 with a counsellor. No matter where you are in your caregiver journey, you don’t have to walk it alone, there is help available.
This guest post was co-written by Adam Satore and Shaheen Alarakhia. To learn more about their services or join one of their upcoming caregiving counselling support groups, visit their website here. To listen to the three of us chat more about this topic, watch our interview on Facebook or Instagram.
Adam Sartore, is a Canadian Certified Counsellor and holds a Masters of Arts in Counselling Psychology. He is blessed with a warm, calming, compassionate presence that helps clients feel safe, seen and heard. Adam specializes in providing online counselling services to adults, adolescents, caregivers and members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Using a holistic, whole picture approach, Adam can help his patients identify the root cause of their distress and get back to living a happy more authentic life.
Shaheen Alarakhia holds a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology from Yorkville University. Blessed with the ability to put people at ease by allowing them to feel heard and understood, Shaheen specializes in providing online adult counselling and couples counselling that digs down to the root cause of the issue that is causing pain. Using a holistic, or whole picture approach, Shaheen can help her patients live a happier more authentic life.