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Caring for a loved one is a rewarding experience, but it can also be stressful, highly demanding and exhausting.

With more than 2.65 million caregivers in Australia – or 1 out of every 11 people – all carers will experience fatigue at a certain point. But prolonged periods of stress and anxiety can cause complete physical, emotional and mental exhaustion – this is known as caregiver burnout.

More than a distraction for carers, caregiver burnout is a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress. Without the right support, this has the potential to harm both you and the loved one in your care. When you’re burnt out it’s impossible to fully care for yourself, let alone someone else.

As a serious public health issue, Care Squared supports a proactive approach to help caregivers identify caregiver burnout, treat the underlying causes, and prevent further problems.

What is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout is a state of total physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.

Care is often provided over years or even decades – in many cases with the health of a loved one declining over time. In these circumstances short-term stressors can snowball into mental health challenges, relationship difficulty, and eventual burnout.

More than a risk to your own wellbeing, caregiver burnout can also lead to a reduced interest in supporting loved ones. When burnout and accompanying feelings of stress take over, these feelings can spiral into neglect or even abuse as feelings of frustration, anger and guilt develop.

When this occurs, both you and your loved one end up suffering – making self-care a necessity, not a luxury.

What causes caregiver burnout?

As a carer you may be conditioned to prioritising someone else’s health and wellbeing over your own. Unfortunately this approach leads to a lack of attention towards your own physical, mental and emotional health.

Almost every caretaker will experience burnout at some point, but if the cause of burnout isn’t identified a caretaker may be unable to provide quality support and lose interest in providing good care.

Factors that may cause caregiver burnout include:

Confusion over roles: Many people are unprepared when handed the responsibility of caregiving. As a spouse, child or friend the role of ‘caregiver’ is often unfamiliar and creates stressful challenges that are difficult to overcome.

Lack of resources: In many cases, caring for a loved one is a full-time role. A lack of money, skills and resources to effectively manage a loved one’s care can cause burnout. Services that support carers are crucial to ensure a lack of resources does not lead to burnout.

Declining health: Many caregivers expect their involvement to improve a loved one’s health and happiness. In the case of degenerative disease like Althzeimer’s or Parkinson’s this can cause burnout when a loved one does not improve.

What are the symptoms of caregiver burnout?

By the time most caregivers suspect burnout, they are already suffering from a range of symptoms.

As a caregiver, it’s easy to focus on your loved one and ignore signs of your own physical and emotional distress. Learning to spot the signs of caregiver burnout is vital to ensure you can take immediate action.

Signs of caregiver burnout include:

 

Physical Symptoms Behavioural Symptoms Emotional Symptoms
  • Body aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent headaches
  • Weakened immune system
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of interest in activities you enjoyed
  • Isolation from friends and family 
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Denial about loved one’s condition
  • Becoming angry or argumentative

5 tips to prevent caregiver burnout

Caring for a loved one can place a strain on the most resilient individual. There’s no shame in needing support, but there are risks to you and your loved one by suffering alone. It’s essential to take advantage of existing support structures to prevent caregiver burnout.

#1: Ask for help – No burden is yours to carry alone. It’s OK to ask friends and family to help with some of your carer responsibilities. Prepare a list of ways people can help so when you’re asked if you need support, your helpers can choose what they’d like to do.

#2: Take regular breaks – Breaks help to relax your mood and reduce your stress. Whether it’s a 10-minute break so you can stretch your legs, or a couple of hours so you can take a night off – organising someone to step in can help you unwind and prevent burnout.

#3: Practice acceptance – watching a loved one struggle with physical or mental health challenges is never easy, but instead of asking “why me?”, embrace your choice to care for a loved one. Maybe you provide care for a parent who raised you, or to set an example to your own kids. Finding a deeper motivation will help you avoid the emotional trap many carers fall into.

#4: Don’t let caregiving take over your life – You can help prevent caregiver burnout by enriching other areas of your life. You’re a carer, but you’re also much more. Allow yourself the time to enjoy your hobbies and passions without feeling guilty. When you invest in your own happiness you’ll be able to weather the challenges of caregiving with greater strength.

#5: Take care of your own health – If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. Start off by creating a set sleeping, exercise and eating pattern. Many caregivers have trouble sleeping, so speak to your doctor if required.

How to recover from caregiver burnout

Caregiver burnout is a serious health problem that requires urgent attention – for the benefit of you and your loved one.

Whether you work as a caregiver in a professional role or you’re one of the millions of Australians taking care of parents, siblings or children, taking time to recharge your batteries is at the heart of a healthy approach to caregiving.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and at the point of burnout, it’s important to seek help. Support systems are in place to provide relief and respite, and ensure your loved one gets the care they need, without putting your health at risk.

Care Squared is proud to offer a range of national support services to relieve stress and reduce confusion around your NDIS needs. Reach out and speak to a Care Squared team member on 1300 632 639 or fill in our contact form to discuss your needs and find out how we can help.