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Recognising and dealing with carers’ burnout

It’s normal to feel stressed or overwhelmed at times, but when you’re constantly feeling physically and mentally exhausted you may be experiencing burnout.

Key Points:

  • Maintaining good physical, emotional and mental health is key to avoiding carers’ burnout
  • You can’t look after someone else if you don’t look after yourself
  • There are warning signs you can look out to gauge if you are at risk of becoming burnt out and ways to bounce back if you are already there

Everyone can become burnt out, but it is particularly detrimental if you are caring for an older person. Being a carer for an older person is hugely rewarding, but it also carries many responsibilities which can cause you to burn out fast.

When caring for an older person for the short or long term – especially caring for a loved one –  you may experience many feelings such as guilt, stress, low mood and burnout.  

If carers’ burnout is not handled, it can take a toll on all areas of your life and impact the quality of care you give.

So what are the signs of burnout and how can you deal with it?

Avoiding carer’s burnout

If you’re at the start of your caring journey and are worried about becoming burnt out, there are some things you can do to fend it off. 

Being a carer will almost always have its stressors, but there are some good habits you can get into to ensure you’re healthy and happy while seeing out your caregiving role.

Caregiving shouldn’t be your sole focus, you need to make time for the things that bring you joy.

Honouring your obligation to yourself

Neglecting your own needs can be a slippery slope, especially if you feel it takes away from your duties as a carer.

But maintaining healthy and robust self-care habits from the onset can prevent the health and well-being issues that arise from burnout and prevent you from being the best carer possible. 

Making time for activities and hobbies you love is important in fending off carers’ burnout. While you may not have a lot of time available, make a conscious effort to block out just 10 minutes for the things you love to do such as reading, gardening or even playing with a pet to keep you feeling good. 

Keep up appearances with personal relationships to help keep you socially engaged and immersed in lives outside of your own. These relationships can help you maintain good mental health and give you a chance to debrief with people you feel safe around.

Make an effort to visit friends or organise a lunch date outside the house so you get out and about in the sunshine. If leaving the house is too difficult, you can always invite someone over for a coffee.

Focusing on the silver linings

Whilst there may be draining aspects of being a carer, it is important to look at the positives and keep them in your field of vision when times get tough. 

Setting realistic goals and focusing on the things you do have control over can help you avoid feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Be your own cheerleader by celebrating the small victories, acknowledging your own efforts and reminding yourself that all the work you do matters by making a list of the ways you make a difference to refer back to at low points. 

Perhaps you are providing care to repay your parent for the care they gave you growing up or you want to set an example for your children. You may grow closer with these people in your life on your care journey, which is always positive. 

Caring may have even made you a more resilient person or feel more at ease with the process of ageing and making decisions about your own future care. 

Whatever the silver linings are, it’s important to keep them in sight to offer perspective and gratitude.

Checking for the signs

Checking in with yourself and how you feel can be the first step in detecting carers’ burnout.

Identifying the signs allows you to take action to prevent things from worsening and start improving.

Common signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout are:

  • Lack of energy
  • Lowered immune system (getting sick often)
  • Feeling physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted, even after sleep
  • Abusing substances such as alcohol or drugs
  • Neglecting your own needs
  • Feeling little satisfaction from your care role
  • Trouble unwinding and relaxing
  • Increasingly impatient and irritable at the person you care for
  • Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless and helpless

If you experience these symptoms and are worried about their impacts, seek professional help from a counselling line or make an appointment with your doctor to get referred onto an appropriate mental health practitioner.

How to bounce back

If you are finding yourself in a state of burnout, there are ways to restore your mental and physical health back to where it should be.

The ways you can avoid carers’ burnout (see above) can also be implemented in order to bounce back from burnout, but there are a few other things you can do to get back on track.

Talking it out

Talking to a supportive family member, friend, mental health professional or carers support group about your situation and feelings can be hugely beneficial to tackling burnout. 

Expressing what’s going on with you and the person that you’re caring for to a trusted person or group can be incredibly cathartic and these allies may also be able to help you find efficient solutions you may not have been able to see alone. They may also simply be able to provide you with some positive reinforcement to keep you feeling appreciated and high-spirited on your carer’s journey. 

Sharing the load

While you may be an older person’s carer, that does not mean you have to do it alone. 

Not having regular breaks from caring responsibilities and caring without support will lead you to burn out fast, so make a point of scheduling time away in your week. 

To help keep your batteries charged and your own well-being in check, you can consider organising some respite care for the person you look after. 

There are a number of different respite care service options available to give you a break, from as little as a few hours to multiple days a week. You can read more about respite care in our article: ‘What types of respite care are there?’

Similarly, you can ask for help from your extended circle. Enlist friends and family to help do the shopping, bring a hot meal, or watch the person you are caring for so you can take a break. Dividing up the care responsibilities among a few people can lighten the load and ensure you don’t fall into a burnt-out state.

For example, one person can take care of medical responsibilities, another with finances and bills, and another with groceries and errands. 

You are only human, so don’t feel ashamed to say you need help or say “yes” when someone offers it to you. 

Consider making a list of small tasks that need to be done so you can dish them out to others easily and tick them off when they’re complete.

Getting back on top of your health

If you have neglected your own health due to your caring responsibilities, it’s important to get back on top of your health to ensure you’re well enough to be a carer and that the person you are caring for doesn’t suffer because of it.

No matter how busy you are, you can’t look after someone else if you aren’t healthy yourself.

To keep your health in check, book a doctor’s appointment to talk about your burnout symptoms and anything else that may be worrying you. You should also get into the habit of attending regular check-ups, especially if you have ailments or conditions that require regular monitoring such as diabetes or chronic pain.

Conditions aside, proper exercise, sleep and food intake play a huge part in how you feel and cope with stress overall.

Aim to exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. Exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi offer other meditative benefits too which can help you relax and relieve stress. Even a few minutes a day can help you feel more at peace.

Eating a healthy diet is equally important as exercise, so nourish your body by eating fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats such as fish, nuts, and olive oil. 

Most people usually need about eight hours of sleep a night to function healthily, but that can differ from person to person. If you are concerned about the amount of sleep you are getting, make an appointment with the doctor or a sleep specialist to discuss your concerns.

If you are suffering from carers’ burnout or are simply doing your best to avoid it, it is important to know you are not alone and there is nothing wrong with feeling that way.

All carer’s will feel overwhelmed and stressed from time-to-time, but letting those feelings get out of hand is a surefire way to end up burnt out. 

Remember that you can’t look after someone else if you’re not well yourself, so put yourself first in order to keep up with your caring responsibilities.

Have you experienced carers’ burnout? What helped you bounce back? Let us know in the comments below. 

Related content:
Are you an informal carer?
Caring for carers: What supports are out there?
Caring for a spouse at home
How to manage carer’s guilt
Informal home care from family and friends


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