What is caregiver burnout?
The cry I hear from countless caregivers, even professionals, is one word: “Burnout!” They have either experienced it or are heading in that direction. Doctors, nurses, clergy, educators, police, fire and rescue personnel—all whose profession involves caregiving—are at risk. Burnout is the central issue for family and friends who have dedicated their lives to their loved one who will never be fully independent.
Burnout is not just exhaustion and fatigue. It is weariness, frustration and loss of energy brought about by the failure of idealized assumptions. As our dreams fade, we lose our passion and energy, and the fire goes out. We are burned out!
Your world is sharply changed when you become fully aware that your loved one is under your care. All of your vitality flows outward and very little flows in to refresh you. You yearn for a trickle of refreshing water to restore your sense of vitality—physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. You give, sacrifice and empty yourself with little or no time or energy directed toward receiving—or even taking—what you need for yourself.
Burnout is not the same as stress. Stress is the non-specific psychological and physiological response to events that are believed and perceived to be a threat to one’s well being. Burnout is the drying-up of our resources due to excessive striving based on unrealistic expectations and a failure to replenish these resources. The key element is that stress relates to beliefs and perceptions; burnout relates to expectations.
Burnout is the result of a failure to balance the distribution of our energy by refueling ourselves with the healing waters that will enable us to continue our difficult work as caregivers.
How can I avoid caregiver burnout?
The primary way to avoid burnout is to remember to take time out for yourself. Simple things can help you relax and calm you down, such as finding a caregiver support group, meeting with friends or taking a soothing bath. My article on self-care for caregivers can provide you with tips on how to keep burnout at bay.
If you would like to learn more, please take a look at my book, Guide for Caregivers. My book is primarily a guide to helping caregivers avoid burnout altogether or restoring you after you have already experienced burnout. Guide for Caregivers is designed to restore balance to your spirit—to replace sadness with laughter, fear with hope, exhaustion with vitality, mourning with gratitude, emptiness with joy and burnout with a rekindled passion.