Caregiver Burnout: How to Spot the Signs of Trouble

September 18, 2021

When an ageing parent begins to struggle with personal care, home upkeep, or other activities of daily life, family members often pitch in to help.

Adult children may rearrange their workday to drive their parent to and from appointments or take on more responsibilities around their loved one’s home. These duties can range from helping to pay bills, home maintenance to organising menus and meals.

photo of a woman looking distressed

Caring for a Loved One at Home

For some adult children and spouses, the role starts small. They might just pick up a few groceries for their family elder each week or help maintain their garden. As time passes, the list of duties climbs.

For other families, the role comes on suddenly. An ageing parent may be injured in a fall or experience a medical emergency. Loved ones are thrust into a situation they may not have planned for or be ready to handle. And, out of love and concern, they quickly begin taking on more responsibilities for their elderly family member.

For many, being the carer for a loved one can be rewarding. It’s a chance to bond and connect across generations in a meaningful way. But the role can also be stressful and physically exhausting, especially when you work outside the home or still have children living at home.

It’s a juggling act 1 in 11 people in Australia are engaged in. That translates to more than 2.65 million carers across the country.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s a good idea to learn to recognise the early signs of ‘caregiver burnout’ and the steps you can take to prevent it.

Preventing Burnout Among Family Carers

These are a few of the warning signs that a carer might be heading for a health crisis—mental or physical—of their own:

  • Overreacting to small inconveniences or difficulty managing anger
  • An overwhelming sense of anxiety
  • Becoming tearful easily
  • Problems falling or staying asleep
  • Lasting fatigue that neither sleep nor rest improves
  • Turning to unhealthy coping habits, such as comfort eating, smoking cigarettes or drinking
  • New health problems, such as stomachaches, back pain, or headaches
  • Unintended weight gain or weight loss
  • Loss of interest in socialising with family and friends

If more than one or two of these red flags sound all too familiar, please know it is OK to ask for help. It’s usually a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor to spot any potential problems – then form a self-care plan together that allows you to find and maintain better balance, such as:

Ask for and accept help: Some adult children and spouses have a difficult time asking for or accepting help. They may believe no one can care for their loved one like they do. Or it might be a sense of duty that causes them to try to handle their family elder’s care on their own.
One of the most important lessons for caregivers to learn is that it is okay to ask for and accept help from others. In fact, doing so can keep you from feeling stressed out and weary, which will make you a better carer over the long term.

Get regular exercise: This one can feel counterintuitive when you are struggling to fit everything into your schedule each day. But exercise can help you feel stronger and better able to cope.If you can’t fit 30 continuous minutes of exercise into your day, break it up into two 15-minute workouts.
Walk in the morning and ride your bike in the evening. Or, do light weight training after breakfast and take a long walk after dinner. You’ll reap the same health benefits either way.

Eat a balanced diet: When you are feeling stressed and anxious, it’s tempting to reach for comfort foods. While they may give you a short-term sense of peace while eating them, you’ll likely feel sluggish after. When that happens, people are more likely to reach for caffeine and sugary treats.
It’s a vicious circle you  are best to avoid. A good reference is the Department of Health website’s “Food and Nutrition” section. They tackle topics ranging from the five food groups to healthy takeaway food.

Develop healthy sleep rituals: Quality sleep is a necessity when it comes to good health. But it’s one of the first things people sacrifice when caring for an ageing family member. Try to give sleep the priority it deserves. In the end, you’ll feel more rested and better able to face the day.
A few tips to help you sleep better include going to bed and rising at the same time each day, turning off electronic devices several hours before bedtime, and keeping the room dark and cool.
If problems persist, talk with your primary care doctor for more advice.

Our final suggestion, is to take advantage of respite services offered through home care agencies like Mayflower.

They are designed to give family carers a break for a few hours, or a more extended period of time. Please feel free to contact us at your convenience to learn more.