Caregiver fatigue is a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that may or may not be paired with a change of attitude toward yourself or the person you’re caring for. The Cleveland Clinic notes that caregivers can become frustrated due to unrealistic expectations, unreasonable demands, or a feeling of losing control.

Signs and symptoms

There are numerous signs that indicate caregiver fatigue, many of which mirror stress and depression. These include:

  • Irritability
  • Changes in health
  • Insomnia
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased sickness
  • Complete exhaustion

Without respite, caregivers suffering with this type of burnout may experience feelings of wanting to hurt themselves or the person for whom they provide care.

How to cope

While providing care for an aging parent or relative is a labor of love, it is a labor nonetheless. Caregivers must incorporate certain self-wellness behaviors into their daily routine in order to prevent negative long-term side effects. A few ways to do this are:

  • Maintaining social relationships. Caregivers often feel as though they must devote 100 percent of their time to cooking, cleaning, and providing hands-on attention to others. But caregivers must also maintain their non-care-related relationships with friends and family.
  • Prioritizing quick mental health boosts. Many individuals find that dealing with stress and fatigue is easier when they are exposed to things they love in small doses throughout their day. Behavioral Wellness & Recovery notes a few ways to reduce stress each day, including keeping a beloved book on hand, getting outside into nature, and spending time with your favorite pet.
  • Eating right. While everyone can benefit from a balanced diet, those tasked with the care of others must pay special attention to their dietary habits. Providing care for another human being takes a toll on the body. Between physical exhaustion, emotional turmoil, and lack of sleep, the body needs all the nutrients it can get. Caregivers should prioritize breakfast, lunch, dinner, and healthy snacks and eat whenever they provide a meal for their patient.
  • Taking a timeout. As a caregiver, it can be difficult to find the time to spend away from obligations. But that is perhaps one of the best things that overworked and overwhelmed care providers can do for themselves. Taking a timeout alone provides perspective and may be just the reset needed to prevent caregiver burnout and fatigue.
  • Being grateful for time together. Caregivers can make it through the most difficult of days by remembering that, as stated by Humana, “life is precious and caring for a loved one is a gift.” One of the worst feelings is regret, so caregivers should always live in the moment, express their love, and appreciate time spent with their loved one.

Studies have found that caregivers may have increased risk of a number of health problems including substance abuse, diabetes, obesity, depression, and heart disease, the latter of which is the top cause of death for women, who also happen to make up the bulk of caregivers. Heart health is of the utmost importance, and caregivers can keep themselves healthy by visiting their doctor once each year for a physical, quitting smoking, and managing stress.

Providing care for others is not easy. It is a labor-intensive and emotionally exhausting life choice that is only made by those with the biggest hearts. But it is precisely these hearts that must be protected, and caregivers are advised to find ways to mitigate stress even on their worst days. A balanced diet, timeouts for self-care, and a positive perspective go a long way toward achieving a balance.

Lydia Chan,

Image via Pixabay

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