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Caregiver Stress and Burnout: Signs and Tips

There is a difference between stress and burnout.

Stress usually involves feeling under pressure when the demands of a situation require too much emotional and physical energy. Under stress, a person may try to gain more control so that things will get better.

Burnout, on the other hand, happens when a person reaches a point where they have nothing left to give. They often feel mentally and physically exhausted to the point where they are beyond caring. It often feels that there is no end in sight to their situation.

To avoid reaching a breaking point, the important thing is to lower your stress and avoid caregiver burnout altogether.

Signs of stress and burnout

There can be physical, behavioral, and emotional signs of stress and burnout. The top signs to look out for are:

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Feeling run down, low energy
  • Overreacting to minor frustrations
  • New or worsening health problems in yourself
  • Neglect of your own needs
  • Trouble relaxing even when help is available                                                                      
  • Reduction in leisure activities
  • Sense of hopelessness or despair

Tips for addressing caregiver stress and burnout

Get enough sleep. This is one of the most important things you can do for yourself to function at your best for yourself and the person you care for. When you don’t get enough sleep, your ability to handle stress, your mood, energy, and your productivity suffer.

Take care of your own health needs. Make sure you stay up to date with your own medical and emotional health appointments. The better your own health is, the better you will be able to be an effective caregiver for someone else.

Ask for help, and try to let go a little (this takes practice!). This may include anything from a respite stay for your loved one if possible, to daily or weekly help so you can have some time to yourself for much-needed self-care. Sometimes friends and family don’t know what to offer so they need to hear specific ways they can be helpful, and that can only come from you. Ask someone to pick up some groceries. See if they can visit with or take out your loved one for a couple of hours. Maybe all you need is a regular phone call to check-in and say hello. People feel good about helping others, and you’ll be helping them, too, by asking for their assistance.

Identify stress reducers and use them when you can. Take a walk, work on a hobby, talk to a friend, watch a favorite movie, play with your cat, practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques. Whatever it is that gives you pleasure and is good for you is important to keep in your life the best you can. 

Identify what is within your control (what you do and how you react), and those things that are not (what others do and how they react). Putting the focus on how you choose to react to situations rather than how others react will help you lower stress by feeling more in control.

Celebrate small victories/practice gratitude. Getting through another day, having a positive interaction, getting some time to yourself, feeling you did your best for your loved one and yourself. These should all be celebrated and by doing so, add to the positivity in your life.

Hebrew SeniorLife recently announced the opening of the Center for Memory Health—a comprehensive program offering services to individuals at all stages of cognitive decline along with their families and caregivers.

To learn more visit the Hebrew SeniorLife website or call 617-363-8600.

Lori Feldman, LICSW's picture

About the Blogger

Depression Care Manager

Lori Feldman, LICSW, received her Master of Social Work from Salem State University and has been working with Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL) since 2013. In collaboration with HSL’s on-site medical practice in Brookline, as well as with social work and other supportive services staff, she has been specializing in depression screening and treatment at HSL’s three independent living housing sites. She has been trained in several evidence-based treatment models that are particularly successful with decreasing depression in older adults. In August, 2018, Lori started as the Social Worker at HSL’s new...

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