The Hidden Toll of Caregiving: Recognising and Preventing Caregiver Burnout

When we think of individuals who may need more support, we tend to think of the elderly or individuals who may be suffering from chronic conditions. Yet, what about the people who look after them?

Despite the immense amount of stress and responsibility that they’re under, caregivers tend to be an overlooked part of the community, even as they tirelessly care for their loved ones. In this article, we explore the phenomenon of caregiver burnout; and what we can do to better support the caregivers around us.

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What is Caregiver Burnout?

We often think of caregiving as a noble task, and possibly take for granted the task of caring for one’s loved ones – but caregivers can experience a lot of stress and anxiety, particularly if their caregiving situation is something that’s a long-term arrangement. 

Accordingly, as the name suggests, caregiver burnout is the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that caregivers experience, as a result of their efforts in looking after someone who needs (specialised) care. Caregiver burnout happens when an individual’s stress has been left unchecked for a long period; and the caregiver has exhausted their energy and bandwidth, before they’re able to seek emotional support. 

In worse case scenarios, caregiver burnout can lead to a deterioration of the caregiver’s health, as well as mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, or even fostering resentment against the person they’re caring for.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is a more common phenomenon than we think. It’s easy to see why: caregivers tend to overlook their own challenges and exhaustion, because they’re focused on looking after their loved ones. 

As such, it’s even more important that everyone – and not just caregivers alone – are aware of the signs of burnout; so that we can take action early, and provide support before their wellbeing worsens.

Common signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout include:

  • Physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion
  • Feelings of hopelessness or a lack of emotions
  • Feeling trapped in one’s situation and unable to find a solution
  • A (sudden) withdrawal from one’s friends and loved ones
  • A loss in interest in activities that one may have previously enjoyed
  • Inability to concentrate on a task
  • Changes in one’s sleep patterns and appetite
  • An increase in frustration and anger towards others; and possibly, developing resentment towards the person that they’re caring for (and subsequently, guilt for feeling this way)

Typically, these signs and symptoms would be sustained over a period of time. It can lead to a sharp decrease in one’s ability to look after their loved one; and this ultimately is harmful for both the caregiver and the person they’re looking after. As such, it’s important that we intervene before the situation worsens.

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How to Support Caregivers

What can we do to help alleviate caregiver burnout? The best action we can take is to show our caregivers our support, and to let them know that they can lean on us for assistance, anytime they need. 

Whether you are a caregiver trying to identify ways to protect your mental health or you’re an individual who’s hoping to help a caregiver you know, these are some ways that we can help to mitigate caregiver burnout; and ensure that our caregivers are looking after their own mental and physical wellbeing.

Encourage Self-Care

When one is a caregiver, it’s possible that this takes over their entire identity, especially if the loved one they’re caring for needs constant attention. However, this can cause a lot of unintentional mental strain on the caregiver, as they’re unable to divorce themselves from the person they’re looking after.

Caregivers need to remember that their own needs are as important as the ones they’re caring for. It’s only when they are physically and mentally healthy, that they’ll be able to also look after their loved ones. This is why it’s important that caregivers set aside time for their own self-care as well: whether it’s time aside for regular exercise or indulging in a hobby that they’ve always enjoyed. 

Adopting mindfulness techniques and learning meditation can also be a great tool for caregivers to have, should they need additional resources to support their mental health.

Build a strong network of social support

Caregiving can seem like a lonely task. It’s key that we let the caregivers in our lives know that they can depend on us for support. For example – if it’s possible, delegating shifts to look after the individual, instead of depending on a single caregiver. This helps to spread the load of caregiving, so that the burden doesn’t rest solely on one person.

Alternatively, there are caregiver support groups that exist in the community; where caregivers come together to share their challenges and talk about their experiences. Having a group of people that are going through the same situation can make caregiving feel less lonely; and also be a good source of information and tips for the unique challenges of caregiving.

Continue the Conversation

It’s important to shed light on caregiver burnout and create greater awareness around this phenomenon. In recent years, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) has run multiple campaigns to bring greater attention to caregiver burnout. Documentaries such as ‘Who Cares’, which was also produced in conjunction with NCSS, highlight the challenges that caregivers face and the ways that their daily lives.

With initiatives like this, conversations around caregivers and their struggles become less taboo. These educational campaigns also prompt caregivers to reflect on their own wellbeing, as a reminder that their mental and physical health is important too.

Seek Professional Support

Lastly, it may be good for caregivers to speak to a professional mental health expert, whether or not they’re experiencing the symptoms of burnout. A therapist can provide advice on how one can manage their stress, and give specific strategies for the caregiving situation that one is facing. 

If you’d like to speak to a mental health professional for support, you can get in touch with any of our therapists at A Space Between. We have trained therapists and counsellors who will be able to guide you and help you navigate the emotional challenges of caregiving.

 

References

Where private practice meets
co-working.
A Space Between provides flexible co-working office spaces for rent to therapists and other professionals in Singapore.
A Space Between is a destination for mental health therapy activities. Counsellors utilise our many conducive therapy rooms for consultations. Located conveniently downtown and offering your independent therapists rent by the hour, we house many professional mental health practitioners, including LGBTQ+ friendly ones. To find out more about the therapists practising in A Space Between, write to us at [email protected].
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