Life can be a difficult balance at the best of times. If you are a caregiver, this balance can be even harder to maintain, because you are caring for someone else’s needs as well as your own. Not to mention the added stress that goes along with caring for a family member.
Eventually, you may find yourself experiencing caregiver fatigue—excessive tiredness, resentment, and feeling burnt out. Fighting caregiver fatigue, and looking after yourself so you can continue looking after a loved one, is extremely important. Recognising the signs of caregiver fatigue at an early stage is the best way to prevent it, and by doing so, you can protect your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Caregiver fatigue symptoms
Caregiver fatigue (also known as “caregiver burnout” or “caregiver fatigue syndrome”) can be identified with the following symptoms:
- Low energy levels.
- Lack of motivation for caregiving duties, job, and other activities.
- Regularly feeling irritable, anxious and exhausted.
- Feeling resentment towards the person you are caring for.
- Feeling that you need more sleep, but having trouble falling and staying asleep at night1.
- Feeling as though your immunity is lowered.
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy2.
- Ignoring or putting off responsibilities, such as medical appointments.
- You have trouble relaxing and letting go of stress3.
- Falling into unhealthy habits with alcohol, smoking, drugs or food.
Experiencing one or more of the above can be a sign you are on your way to caregiver fatigue.
Reasons for experiencing caregiver fatigue vary, with typical signs including the stress of constantly being on-call, ignoring your own health needs, and setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. Dealing with negative elderly parents can also cause excess strain on your mental, emotional and physical health—conflicting emotions of love and resentment are a normal but confronting aspect of caring for a parent. Left unchecked, these feelings can overtake your health and happiness, as well as your relationship with your elderly loved one.
How to relieve caregiver fatigue
Some simple ways to alleviate the stress of caregiving include:
Take regular breaks
A 5-10 minute break every hour or two can help you reset, particularly if you use the time to meditate or practice mindfulness for a few minutes. These practices can help your stress to melt away, refreshing you for upcoming duties.
Look after your own health
During a flight emergency, you need to equip your own oxygen mask before helping others, and you should take this approach with your health. Taking vitamins, ensuring you get outside for a few minutes a day, and exercising are the best ways to keep your physical health in good condition, which in turn helps with your emotional and mental health.
Pay attention to your own feelings and thoughts
You’re entitled to your own emotions, and shouldn’t feel ashamed of them. Give yourself permission to experience every last emotion no matter how “wrong” it may feel, because repressing them will only add to your stress4. Quick emotional-release exercises, such as spending five minutes writing down everything you are feeling, can help you name these emotions and accept them.
Everything you are feeling is valid, and most likely a result of the excessive stress you are dealing with. Taking a few minutes in the morning, with a coffee or tea, gives you some time to focus on you, and get yourself mentally prepared for the day ahead. Doing this at night can also release the stress you are carrying before sleep.
Incorporate healthy foods into your diet
It can be hard to resist the sugary snacks that get you through the afternoon, but the crash from a chocolate bar outweighs the 20 minutes of energy you gain. If you (or another family member who can help out) have the time, prepping healthy snacks is the easiest way to make sure you have nutritious food on-hand whenever you need a quick-fix. Carrot sticks with hummus, almonds, muesli bars, apples and bananas are great options for a small boost, and are much healthier for you in the long run.
Get back into social activities and hobbies
At the end of a long week, or even a long day, it can be easy to cancel social events or classes, and just stay inside. Sometimes, this can be the best option, but not if it’s a regular occurence. Social plans and outings are a chance to get away from your routine of caring and/or working, and focus on things you enjoy. It might be difficult to drag yourself away from the TV to go to your painting class, or dinner with a friend, but you will usually feel more energised and relaxed afterwards. Meeting up with friends can also give you a chance to unload a little, and discuss your feelings in a safe environment.
Seek professional help
While the above are great habits to get into, if you continue to feel excessively stressed, anxious or resentful, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a therapist. A therapist can provide a care-plan specifically designed for you and your life.
Getting a care plan that is tailored to your needs is the best way to fight caregiver fatigue, and improve your mental, emotional and physical health.
Join a caregiver community
Knowing you are not alone in your feelings can be extremely helpful—check your local area to see if there are support groups for caregivers in your community. A simple Google search should show if there are support groups in your area, or even online groups that can be joined from anywhere in the world.
Being a caregiver can be incredibly stressful, and when you forget to take care of yourself, caregiver fatigue may set in. This has a tendency to affect your entire family, as well as you. Figuring out what you need to stay physically, emotionally and mentally happy is the best way to fight caregiver fatigue, allowing you to continue caring for your loved one in a safe and healthy way.
- Angela Stringfellow, 2019, What is Caregiver Fatigue?, SeniorLink
- 2019, Caregiver Burnout, Cleveland Clinic
- Melissa Smith, 2019, Caregiver Stress and Burnout, Help Guide
- Nancy Moyer, 2018, How to Care for Yourself When You Have Caregiver Burnout, Healthline