Caring for a sick or disabled loved one is bound to affect the emotional and physical health of a PCS caregiver. That's why it's essential to understand the signs of caregiver fatigue and help stop it in its tracks.
If you're a caregiver in the state of Nevada, read on for tips on how to keep caregiver fatigue from affecting your life and health.
What is Caregiver Fatigue?
Caregiver fatigue (also called “caregiver burnout”) is the state in which a caregiver feels physically, emotionally, and physically exhausted because of the extra responsibility of caring for another person.
The condition can affect a caregiver's health and the quality of care they can offer to a friend or loved one. This feeling of exhaustion can lead to physical symptoms and changes in attitude about life and its responsibilities.
Causes of Caregiver Fatigue
Many things can lead to caregiver burnout. These are the most common:
Role strain occurs when a caregiver is pushed past their limits, whether it be physically, emotionally, or even financially. The result is no longer being able to properly care for your loved one or yourself.
Nearly half a million Nevadans provide approximately 400 million hours of unpaid care to family and friends every year, and most of it is unpaid.
Living your own life while trying to care for someone else 24/7 is putting an unreasonable demand on yourself. And it’s important to explore any respite services in your area so that you’re not shouldering all of the responsibilities alone.
Unrealistic expectations can come from outside sources or from the caregiver themselves.
When you’re expected to do more than you’re capable of, it’s important to acknowledge that burden and voice it to those who can help.
Lack of control
A loved one’s illness or disability can be sudden, frightening, and upend many lives. It’s normal to feel a lack of control over the situation. This can easily lead to stress and anxiety.
Symptoms of Caregiver Fatigue
Caregiver fatigue may look different in different people. But most commonly, symptoms include:
- Withdrawal from friends and family members
- Lack of motivation for the job and for trying new things
- Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, including sleeping pills
- Missing doctor’s appointments and other responsibilities
- Being unable to fall and stay asleep
- Feelings of depression, hopelessness, alienation, helplessness, irritability
- Resentment toward the patient, possibly resulting in wanting to hurt or abandon them
Many of these are normal reactions when a person is under stress. But they need to be dealt with before they become serious.
In Nevada, the state offers respite services to those who cannot afford to take a break and hire a temporary caregiver. You can find out more by visiting the Nevada Department of Health & Human Services Aging and Disability Services Division’s Family Support Services website.
Timeline of Caregiver Burnout
The Northwest Regional Council, a family caregiver support program, has suggested a timeline that caregivers can use to help judge their level of burnout. It's a helpful way of seeing that some of the stressors you feel are normal and what you might expect if fatigue gets out of control for too long.
This is the time when a new caregiver starts to realize the difference in providing long-term care vs. acute care. This can be a stressful realization, so they struggle to stay positive while also coping with their new normal, which includes:
- Manages the house, garden, car, shopping, bills, and cooking
- Attends to personal care
- Attends to family relations
- “Keeps up appearances”
- Helps person with dementia through social situations
- Remains optimistic, caring, supportive
- Operates as “superwoman” or “superman”
If you’re in this situation, you may find these characteristics also describe you:
- Anxious to provide the best possible care
- If working, spends “vacation” time for caregiving
At 21 Months
No one can be "superhuman" for long, so at 21 months, burnout can start to have an effect on the caregiver's well-being. In addition, their own work or social life may suffer.
- Begins to take medication for sleep or headaches
- It becomes harder and harder to keep on top of things.
- The loved one's personal care needs intensify, adding new duties (for example, trips to the doctor, medication management, etc.)
- Some help from family is still available
- Takes more time off from work
If a caregiver doesn’t deal with the effects of burnout, the job of caregiving becomes all-consuming. This isn’t a good situation for either the caregiver or the family member or friend they are caring for.
- Emotional and physical resources are drained
- There is less personal contact with your own doctor, dentist, minister, friends
- Experiences feelings of powerlessness
- Caregiving consumes both day and night
- Outside help dwindles away
- If working, no longer able to attend training for advancement; skips promotions
At 32 Months
Problems can become chronic well before 32 months, but things can become more severe after so much time under stress.
- Stress becomes harder to conceal
- The caregiver begins taking tranquilizers
- Begins using medication for musculoskeletal pain
- Sleep is continually disturbed
- Caregiver becomes irritable
- Less and less contact with others
- If working, may scale back further on work hours or responsibilities
By 38 Months
Years can go by quickly, and if you're still caring for a loved one without dealing with your own problems, your long-term health starts to suffer. At this point, your caregiving skills are hard to maintain as well. It's common to feel guilty on top of your own medical concerns.
- Caregiver feels unhealthy
- Finds it hard to get up
- Never feels rested
- May have hypertension/colitis
- Has symptoms of chronic fatigue
- Caregiver loses the will to care for themselves
- They are unable to manage the household
- They rarely socialize with others
- Commonly feels helpless, guilty, like a failure
After 50 Months
Being a long-term caregiver is hard for anyone, even professionals. But while professionals have resources to get help, a family caregiver may not have access to these. This puts them in a state of ill health and isolation.
- A chronic state of fatigue
- The caregiver is in a state of "unwellness"
- Becomes isolated
- Is unwilling or unable to access resources for information or help
How to Prevent Caregiver Fatigue
It’s crucial to prevent caregiver fatigue before it starts to control your life. When we spend so much time thinking about caring for others, our own lives can begin to slip away.
It’s hard to ask for help or take time for yourself when you’ve decided to take on caregiving duties, but it’s the best thing you can do for your sick loved one. Having a happy, healthy caregiver means they get better care. So consider these tips for making life more manageable:
Ask for help
No one can do it all alone, although they may try. There’s no prize for exhausting yourself or taking on everything single handedly.
When you're overwhelmed, letting someone take on a few duties will allow your body and mind to relax. Isolation only leads to physical and emotional problems down the line.
Take some time for self-care
Many of us tend to reach for our phones when we get a spare minute. But this isn't self-care. "Doomscrolling,” or mindlessly swiping through online drama, can interfere with your outlook on the world and your ability to relax your brain and get some real rest.
Self-care involves constructive activities that make you feel stronger, happier, centered, or relaxed. This can be reading a book, taking a walk, or working with your hands outside for a while.
Keep a journal
Writing in a journal isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in getting out some feelings and frustrations, you may want to give it a try. It’s cheap, easy, and there’s no wrong way to do it.
Putting pen to paper is a way to slow down. And you may be able to write some things you feel like you can’t say out loud. If you’re afraid of someone finding it, you can always discard the pages.
Maintain a healthy diet
When you're busy caring for yourself and others, it's not always easy to plan out healthy meals, no matter how much you want to. But without the essential vitamins and minerals that protein, whole grains, and vegetables provide, your body can't repair itself after any kind of stress. It simply doesn't have the tools to restore your energy.
Eating well doesn't mean you have to diet or that you can't indulge; it just means you're willing to eat healthy whenever you can. More importantly, it involves making a promise to yourself to get back on track if you happen to have a bad day, week, or month.
Take some time off
It may be easier said than done, but it's important to look into the resources available to you as a caregiver. Respite can come from family and friends or the state.
Let family care for your loved one for a day, and don’t worry about whether they do everything the same way you would. The important thing is to find a substitute for yourself every now and then when things get stressful and use the time off to give full attention to your own life and well-being.
Know you are appreciated
It’s easy to feel taken for granted as a caregiver. You will probably not get all the credit and thanks you deserve. However, there’s an excellent chance that people appreciate your efforts more than you know. They’re just not always good at expressing it.
It can be especially hard for someone who needs care and may feel like a burden to thank their caregiver properly. Don't let your self-worth depend on outside validation. Just remember that you are doing the best you can.
Join a support group
Caregiver support groups exist in person and online. They can be lifelines to resources you might not otherwise be able to find on your own.
A support group gives you a safe place to express your feelings or ask questions without judgment.
Know your limits
We all have our limits. The purpose of self-care is to avoid reaching your edge.
If you can't put one more duty on your plate, speak up. It's essential to care for yourself along the way so that if you do reach a limit on your time or energy, you can express it constructively instead of lashing out. No one is helped when a caregiver gets to the point when they throw up their hands and say they can't take it anymore.
Develop tools for coping
You’re the only person who can help yourself get through tough times. Friends, counselors, and support groups can help offer you the tools for coping, but you’re the one who has to use them.
It’s never too late to add new tools and try to get your physical and mental health back on track.
First, Help Yourself
There’s a reason airlines tell you to “secure your own life mask before assisting others.” That’s because you can’t share energy you don’t have – if you run out of air, you can’t help other people.