Caregiver Health Statistics Snapshot:
- 20 hrs: Average hours per week of unpaid in-home care provided by family caregivers
- 87%: Percentage of caregivers who are not getting enough sleep
- 91%: Percentage of caregivers whose own health is in decline & who report depression
- 4-8 years: Average life expectancy decrease for those caring for an Alzheimer’s patient
Chances are, if you’re one of the 75 million adults in North America caring for an elderly, ill, or disabled family member, you’re managing symptoms of depression, high levels of stress and often feeling overwhelmed. For caregivers who are also raising children or holding down a full-time job (known as “The Sandwich Generation”) the combined pressures of working, running a family, and caring for a loved one actually hinders their immune system’s ability to fight disease – leading to a doubled risk of developing chronic illness earlier in life.
Caregiver burnout is real, and it is serious. The last thing a working caregiver needs is to struggle with a decline in their own health – so take a moment to learn the signs and symptoms of burnout, as well as five easy tips to help you recover.
Signs and Symptoms:
Because burnout is not immediately obvious when you’re functioning in a high-stress environment, it’s often noticed first by friends or family. If loved ones have expressed concern about your health, take those concerns seriously.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you been feeling pessimistic or dissatisfied?
- Do you find yourself withdrawing from friends or avoiding social interactions?
- Are you emotionally exhausted?
- Are you less interested in work or hobbies that you used to enjoy?
- Do you find yourself becoming impatient, irritable, or argumentative more often?
- Are you increasing your alcohol consumption or prescription medication so that you can relax?
- Do you feel like you’re under the weather more often?
If you’ve answered yes to two or more questions, you may be suffering from caregiver burnout. Fortunately, what is done can be undone! Here are 5 tips to help you recover from burnout and to avoid it in the future:
1. Set firm limits. Emotional health is like a bank account. You can only give – or lend – your available funds. If you’re consistently “overdrawn”, be realistic about how much time and energy you can spend on caregiving, and set firm limits. If you find yourself getting “low”, make time to replenish yourself in any of the ways listed below. If you give until there’s nothing left, you not only can’t be a successful caregiver, but your own health could be at risk.
2. Build time for yourself into your schedule. It’s not easy, but try to incorporate “me” time into your schedule. Think about activities you’ve enjoyed in the past, and try to find a way to work them into your routines. Whether it’s listening to music, gardening, cooking, working on a puzzle or walking the dog – try to find time for activities that take your mind off your daily routine.
3. Join a caregiver support group. If you’re reading this article, then you’re already looking for guidance and support. Don’t stop there! There are caregiver support groups everywhere – try calling your local senior center, hospital, doctor’s office or place of worship to inquire about meetings. If you can’t leave the house, there are plenty of caregiver support groups available online. Caregiver support groups offer a safe place to vent your frustrations, share experiences and ask advice from people in similar positions.
4. Start a journal. Whether it’s in a notebook or on a computer, writing can be a therapeutic exercise. Journals provide a private place for you to express your concerns, frustrations and emotions. Not comfortable writing? There are other options – some people turn to creating art, including everything from ink-and-pen drawings to cutouts and craft-paper. Creative projects can be the perfect way to express feelings that can’t be put into words. For more on this technique, see our blog article: Creativity and Self-Care.
5. Take care of your health. No, seriously! Take extra care to maintain a healthy diet, including super foods such as bananas, blueberries, dark chocolate, fish, nuts, eggs, and dark leafy vegetables (yes, we said chocolate!). Exercise for at least 20 minutes, 3 times a week—even a short walk around the neighborhood can help. Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night (regular exercise will help you sleep better, too), and visit your doctor for regular check-ups.
Remember, you’re not alone. Reach out for help if you need it; call a friend, family member, or even a volunteer from a senior center or church – there are many resources available if you’re willing to ask! If you can afford it, give yourself time to recharge by hiring a caregiver from a reputable home care agency, or check with your loved one’s insurance carrier to see if they provide part-time outpatient care.