Experts say caregiver burnout is currently one of the rising health issues on the forefront. With the aging boomer generation, which means so are parents, avoiding the stress of caregiver burnout may present a major challenge for some. Yet doctors and health professionals say not only is it worth the effort, but it can be done.
Experts confirm caregiver burnout is real and may exhibit itself in various ways. Irritability, depression, complete physical exhaustion and bouts of crying may all be symptoms of someone who is experiencing the stress of caregiving. Additional symptoms may include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, increased use of alcohol or the introduction of drugs.
A decreased immune system is often a key indication of the stress of caregiver burnout. This, experts say, may result in more frequent illnesses such as recurring colds or flu. Changes in the handling of the person who is receiving care may also be a warning sign. Feelings of resentment and the stress of the caregiver may sometimes affect the quality of care by the caregiver. These overwhelming feelings and stress may result in the caregiver hurting themselves or the one requiring care.
Healthcare professionals state oftentimes that caregivers are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of their roles, and that personal mental health and physical well-being suffer. The caregiver may be unsuccessful at avoiding the stress of caregiver burnout and, as a result, experts suggest, may experience feelings of hopelessness and an increased loss of interest in activities they may have previously enjoyed. Experts say a feeling of losing control or depression surrounding the circumstances of role reversal in some cases may create a sense of confusion, particularly in the beginning while working as a caregiver. An example would be a child taking care of a parent or a husband taking care of his wife.
Healthcare professionals suggest the first step to relieving stress is to recognize it. Experts say many do not recognize key indicators of stress because they become accustomed to feeling it. Experts also suggest the caregiver focuses most often on the one who is being cared for and, as a result, it becomes a pattern of neglect toward personal wellness.
It is possible, health professionals say, to avoid the stress of caregiver burnout and to foil oncoming depression. Time-tested studies have shown that support groups and counseling improves mood and helps to foster coping mechanisms. Talking with family, friends and especially a primary care physician have also proven invaluable. Experts say verbalizing feelings of being overwhelmed and asking for help is a vital link to dealing with the realities of caregiver burnout.
Doctors emphasize the importance of avoiding the stress of caregiver burnout by maintaining a life outside of caregiving duties. Maintaining physical health through exercise such as walking, yoga, biking, swimming and meditation are some activities that are easy to do and may zap feelings of stress and being overwhelmed. Healthcare professionals suggest eating a healthy diet, as diet can affect mood and replenish nutrients and protect against sickness. Experts say making a commitment to take care of yourself even if it is only baby steps will without a doubt successfully aid in avoiding caregiver burnout, and will open the way to creating more time for other activities.
By Wendy Waring