Caring for a loved one can be difficult at any time of year, but it can be especially difficult during the holidays—from Thanksgiving to Christmas to July 4th—or other busy times. Caregivers do a lot to meet the needs of others during these busy seasons, but if they don’t also ensure that their own needs are being met, it can lead to burnout and other detrimental outcomes. If you’re a caregiver—or if you know one—it’s important to know the signs of caregiver burnout in order to avoid it.
Signs of caregiver burnout
Caregiving can take a significant toll on even the most loving and patient of people. The constant effort that caregiving requires is often accompanied by a range of difficult physical, mental, and emotional outcomes, from exhaustion to frustration to guilt. These are often normal outcomes and emotions, but they can intensify and signal that someone is dealing with caregiver burnout.
So how do you know if you or someone you know is dealing with caregiver burnout? Look for the following indicators as suggested by both AARP and Banner Health:
- Anger or frustration directed at your loved one (vs. the situation)
- Constant anxiety or negative thinking
- Decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
- Difficulty concentrating that hinders your ability to perform familiar tasks or remember important information or appointments
- Exhaustion that makes it difficult for you to complete daily tasks
- Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
- Irritability and moodiness
- More frequent sicknesses
- Sleeplessness or insomnia
- Withdrawal or decreased pleasure from friends and activities you previously enjoyed
If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing caregiver burnout, consider taking the American Medical Association’s caregiver self-assessment questionnaire to evaluate the situation.
How to avoid or lessen the impact of caregiver burnout
It is vitally important for caregivers who are experiencing burnout to address it before things get out of control. During busy times as well as other times of the year, one simple approach is: Plan, Protect, Rest, and Connect.
It can be difficult for caregivers to ensure they’re getting proper nutrition, staying active, and getting enough sleep at any time of year, but it is especially challenging during busy seasons like the holidays.
To make sure their own needs are being met, caregivers should make a plan for how they’re going to stay healthy during the holiday season. This plan doesn’t have to be lengthy or overly formal, but it does need to be realistic. Achieving one modest goal can produce greater benefit than falling short of several more ambitious goals.
Examples of modest, attainable goals include:
- Eating at least 3 servings of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables each weekday
- Drinking alcohol only at holiday parties or gatherings
- Doing 5 minutes of stretching or yoga after waking or before bedtime
- Parking at a distance from stores and walking to reach the entrance
- Getting at least 6.5 hours of sleep per night
Since time and energy are both limited resources for caregivers, especially during busy seasons, it is important that caregivers set and enforce limits as well as ask for help.
Opportunities to pitch in are plentiful during the holidays. Tasks that can be easy and enjoyable in a time of less responsibility (e.g., bringing a dish to a potluck) might present a much greater challenge during times when someone plays the role of a caregiver. Establishing limits based on what’s most important—and sticking to those limits—can help caregivers protect their time and reserve their energy for things that are highest priority.
Busy seasons like the holidays can also present increased opportunities for caregivers to communicate or spend time with family members and friends. Because of this, caregivers should consider using these opportunities to ask for help. This is especially important if loved ones are visiting from far away, as enlisting their help is one way they can be an effective caregiver from a distance.
Caregivers need breaks too, and although getting a break may seem especially challenging during the holidays or busy seasons, it is possible. The following are approaches caregivers should consider:
- Make a list of quick and simple things that help you feel rested (e.g., a hot shower, cozying up with a blanket and a book for 15 minutes).
- Identify small pockets of time in your day-to-day routine when there is space for a short break and do one of the things on your list.
- Sneak in self-care by using one of these additional strategies.
- Include your loved one in self-care. This can yield the double benefit of providing you with some support while also nourishing the connection you share.
- Identify times when a longer break might be possible and ask someone to cover for you.
Holiday seasons can be full of opportunities to be around people, but those people may not understand the world of a caregiver. During these busy times, it is more important than ever for caregivers to remember that they are not alone and to have easy access to helpful information and tips. That’s why they should consider connecting with an in-person community such as one of Banner Health’s caregiver support groups or an online community such as the AARP Family Caregivers Discussion Group on Facebook or Online Community Caregiving thread.
For more information on caregiving and achieving balance, and preventing caregiver burnout, see these resources from AARP and Banner Health.