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Family Caregiver Stress And Tips For Avoiding Burnout

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Are you someone who provides unpaid care to an aging family member, spouse, or friend in need? If so, you would be considered a caregiver. In 2018 STATS Canada reported that 25 per cent of the population provide some form of care to family members or friends with chronic illness or disabilities. With the growing trend of aging in place on the rise, the number of family caregivers is also increasing.

Why do people sign up to be caregivers?

There are a myriad of reasons why individuals/families commit to being caregivers. Here are a few:

  • There are no other options.
  • Feel they want to give back.
  • Want to remain as close to their aging adult as possible in their final years.
  • May want to work through relationship issues and obtain forgiveness or healing.
  • Feel they can give the best care.
  • Avoiding institutionalization of their loved one so they can remain comfortable in a familiar home.

What are the benefits to the care recipient?

  • Remaining in a familiar space. It’s comfortable! It’s home!
  • Maintaining a daily, close relationship with those they love.
  • Individualized care and attention by people they know.
  • Opportunity to regularly share their thoughts and ideas with someone who will listen.
  • Remaining involved in family dynamics.

So, what exactly does a care giver do? What are the expectations? These answers will be based on what the caregiver is capable of and what the aging adult requires. The caregiver role will also be influenced by how much help they may receive. Community resources may be limited but there are free resources available through the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. There are also numerous private companies that offer in home care at a cost.

Tasks a caregiver may expect to participate in

  • Assisting with or giving total daily care such as bathing, toileting, oral care, dressing, feeding, transferring, lifting, etc.
  • Administering medications.
  • Managing difficult behavior.
  • Household chores: changing and making beds, laundry, cleaning, and cooking meals.
  • Financial needs including paying bills, banking, filing income tax, making deposits, and meeting with financial advisors and lawyers.
  • Attending medical appointments such as physicians, eye doctors, hearing tests, specialists, podiatrists etc.
  • Transporting and accompanying them on regular errands including shopping, hairstylists, manicures, church services, and whatever else they are involved in.

Evidently, there are many time demands required in meeting your aging adults needs and desires. Plus, caregivers have their own personal lives that require daily attention. This extra workload may result in caregiver stress or burnout.

What causes caregiver stress/burnout?

  • Loss of personal time.
  • Loss of privacy.
  • Increased workload.
  • Conflicting demands on your time.
  • Physical strain, lack of sleep, rest, and energizing activities.
  • Lack of control.
  • Unpredictable outcomes.

Care giving can be rewarding but also stressful. Meeting the demands and requirements of caring for your loved one may become overwhelming at some times along the journey. Focusing intently on caring for your loved one may result in not caring for yourself resulting in caregiver stress/burnout.

10 warning signs of caregiver stress/burnout

  1. Feeling overwhelmed. “I don’t know if I can continue doing this! What do I do next?!”
  2. Insomnia. Can’t fall asleep, have difficulty staying asleep or waking up often during the night.
  3. Sleeping too much. Requiring more than your usual amount of sleep. Difficulty dragging yourself out of bed in the morning. Napping throughout the day.
  4. Easily irritated or angry. Even though you love the person you are caring for, you may unexpectedly lash out at them or others in frustration. Over time, caregivers may grow angry and resentful due to the constant sacrifice required.
  5. Lack of concentration. Caregivers may be so focused on all the tasks required to care for their loved one that they find it difficult to focus on anything else. This may result in missing appointments or forgetting to take medications.
  6. Depression and anxiety. This may be evidenced by a withdrawal from activities, family and friends, feelings of guilt, sadness, and worry.
  7. Increased alcohol consumption, substance abuse, smoking, or prescription medication overuse.
  8. Personal health concerns. Frequent headaches, body fatigue, and pain. Chronic stress negatively impacts the immune system causing more frequent bouts of illness.
  9. Weight changes. Stress may cause some caregivers to overeat, eat less, or skip meals altogether. Grabbing quick, unhealthy snacks and ordering take out may also occur due to lack of time. Exercise may also take a back seat during stressful times. This may result in unhealthy weight gain or loss.

10. Exhaustion. Feeling absolutely drained. Waking up in the morning not feeling rested         and wanting to go straight back to bed.

The underlying causes of caregiver stress/burnout are often associated with lack of self-care and lack of resources. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will be in no shape to care for anyone else. Find and use the ideas and resources available to make this journey doable and hopefully enjoyable. Caregiver wisdom includes sharing the load.

5 tips to avoid caregiver stress/burnout

  1. Take care of yourself.

    Spend time daily on activities that nourish your spirit, soul and body. Move your body, eat well, meditate, read, sing, watch a funny show, hang out with friends- whatever feeds you and/or makes you smile. You need it!

  2. Ask for help sooner rather than later.

    Many caregivers have difficulty asking for help. This may result in feelings of isolation and with time, caregiver burnout. It is imperative to enlist the help of other family members or friends to give yourself a break/time away. Being the major caregiver does not mean you must be the only caregiver. People in your circle are probably willing to help but don’t know what to do. Make a list of how people can help. Ask for help before you become desperate for help. Getting help on a regular basis will allow you time to rejuvenate and thus be a better caregiver.

  3. Access Respite Care

    Suppose you have an out-of-town wedding to attend, or you want to go on vacation, or you are just plain tired and need a longer break? Respite care may be your savior. Many communities offer resources for respite care. This may include:

    -care provided in your home for several hours by a trained individual.  

    -adult day care drop off centers

    -or if a longer break is required (days or weeks) the WRHA will assist to temporarily locate your loved one into a personal care home.

  4. Join a support group.

    These people are on a similar journey as you. They know what you are going through. They are walking the walk. They can provide encouragement, validation, problem-solving strategies, a shoulder to cry on, and many other avenues of support. This type of group may be the connection that yields a lifeline for you.

  5. Stay connected with your long-standing support community.

Although your life my seem incredibly stressful and busy right now, make time for your friends. Do not alienate them. You need them. They will lift you up when you are spiraling. They will help you to keep things in perspective. They will encourage you to laugh or cry. They will be who you need to lean on at times during this journey.

There are no individual superheroes here. Those that navigate the caregiver role well and come out on the other side relatively healthy, and with relationships intact are those who were surrounded by a team.


     Darlene Klassen is a registered nurse working in Long Term Care in Winnipeg and a Freelance Writer at Nurse Dar Writes.