Caregiving stress and burnout results from constant daily exposure to feelings of loss, danger, and frustration. The responsibility of daily care for an aging parent, spouse, or loved one is frequently compared to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced by military veterans. PTSD is caused by exposure to traumatic stressors that are relived through recurring memories called flashbacks. Caregiver stress and burnout result from unrelenting daily interactions that may go on for years that result in anxiety and worry.
Stressors resulting in burnout for caregivers
• Feelings of loss related to the care of a loved one that include declining health and loss of independence
• Concerns about injuries, accidents, or unexpected crises situations. Hyper-sensitivity associated with external stimuli like the ringing of the telephone or hearing a loved one get out of bed at night.
• Frustration and lack of control in managing interpersonal disagreements and the associated tensions
In my 20+ years as a caregiving advocate and a family caregiver I, like most caregivers, experienced all of the above stressors related to care oversight for my clients. The ongoing daily wear and tear of caregiving stress and burnout becomes normal to the caregiver. Friends and family witnessing the burnout and stress of the caregiver become concerned about the physical and emotional well-being of the caregiver.
The conflict in helping caregivers recognize that stress and burnout are not normal, results from caregivers being loyal, duty bound, and self-sacrificing.
Caregivers work until the point of physical and emotional exhaustion, until they can go no more placing the care of a loved one at risk. Who will pick up the pieces when the main caregiver can no longer fulfill this role?
Solutions for caregiving stress
• Improve coping skills to reduce the tendency to respond negatively to events and replacing the habit with positive and solution-oriented responses
• Manage interpersonal tensions by learning to collaborate rather than automatically being pulled into conflict
• Develop confidence to support actions for decision making and managing daily care situations
How do caregivers make the shift from feelings of loss, damage, and constant frustration to positively responding to caregiving situations? The immediate response for caregivers about making any time for change will be, “I don’t have time. I can’t think about anything else.”
The experience of feeling overwhelmed freezes caregivers in a place of being unable to move forward. Remaining in a situation of stress and burnout is easier for caregivers than embracing the thought that changes in behaviors and thoughts will reduce stress and worry, and increase self-esteem and confidence.
Finding caregiver support
The most effective types of caregiver support are individual counseling and support groups in person or online. Daily schedules for caregivers that may include work, caring for their own families, and caring for a love one may make showing up for formal counseling or groups impossible. Rather than adding more stress to an already stressful situation, caregivers can find support that works for their schedules. Libraries of caregiving articles exist online, newsletters and caregiving videos provide tips and support, and online groups offer solutions.
Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA, is a national caregiving thought leader, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker offering online support and programs for caregivers seeking support and advice. Wilson’s book, “The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes” offer practical tips and advice for caregivers.