Best Ways to Prevent Caregiver Stress and Burnout During the Holiday Season
By: Rosemarie Tamunday Casanova — RN, BSN, MHA
Existing data shows that 2 in every 5 caregiver in the United States of America have, at one time or another in their career, experienced emotional stress as a result of the job they do. It is very common for people in the healthcare business, especially those in more physical, mental and emotionally demanding fields to feel stressed. This is a situation commonly referred to as “caregiver burnout”.
What is Caregiver burnout?
This is a situation whereby a caregiver feels exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally as a result of the job they do. This can lead them to unintentionally exhibit negative attitude and feelings towards the care job and the patients they take care of.
Caregivers perform a wide range of duties, contributing to the recovery, care and rehabilitation of the sick and elderly.
What are some of the Duties of a Caregiver?
Caregivers help with the following:
- Preparation of meals
- Running of general household errands
- Performance of minor medical tasks such as administration of medication, changing feeding tubes and waste bags such as colostomy or urinary bags.
- Monitoring recovery process in the sick
As the holiday season approaches, chances are that many caregivers will have to put in more shifts and work hours. With many families traveling for the holidays, there is usually a statistical rise in the number of elderly population who cannot, because of age-related conditions, travel with their families over long distances. As a result of this, they will require the services of care givers.
Factors that contribute to Caregiver stress
1. Role strain
The roles played by the caregiver during the holiday season will go a long way in determining whether or not they are likely to have a burnout. As established earlier, many caregivers take up more roles, putting in more work hours and spend more time with elderly patients and less time doing other things . The human mind is not conditioned to do things over and again repetitively without any form of variety or interludes. Doing this can lead to emotional strain and mental fatigue.
2. Unreasonable demands
Elderly people can sometimes place demands on the caregivers they are attached to. These demands can become unreasonable in certain cases, such as asking the caregiver to spend a little more time with them before they leave for the day or frequently requiring them to help carry out mundane activities outside their roles. Due to the attachment and relationship established between them, caregivers will sometimes go out of their way to carry out these extra duties.
3. Too much expectations
Like most other health care providers, too much expectation is placed on the caregiver by the people who rely on them. We must remember that a caregiver is first a human with their own physical and emotional needs, their own life and responsibilities that they need to meet with.
Signs of Caregiver fatigue
this is one of the first signs that start to appear in a fatigued care giver. When you begin to notice that the very thought of waking up in the morning to resume your duty comes with palpitations and worry, then you may just be showing signs of anxiety brought upon by the job. Anxiety leads the caregiver to worry unreasonably about themselves and about the patient in their care. It could lead to insomnia which then worsens the anxiety and restlessness, a negative feedback mechanism that when unchecked, could lead to a total breakdown in the caregiver.
Withdrawal from duties and responsibilities
caregivers with burnout may start to pull away from colleagues and patients, neglecting their duties or totally forgetting what they have to do and at the appropriate time. There is a general listlessness towards activities that would usually have been fun or a source of joy to them. A growing loss of finding pleasure with work and life.
Healthcare professionals are trained to be courteous and polite, discharging their duties without any form of reservations and bias. When you find the opposite of this playing out, especially from a caregiver who wouldn’t naturally act that way, it is likely that they are going through a phase of stress from work. It is time to pay particular attention to their well-being.
As a consequence of these erratic behaviors, the caregiver may show signs of patient resentment, pay little or no attention to their complaints or retort impolitely and harshly when spoken to. There is no telling how people react in stressful conditions. However, this is one of the classical presentations seen in most cases of work-related stress.
Stress-related sadness should be differentiated from clinical depression. However, a caregiver could slip into clinical depression if affected mood isn’t resolved or worsens over long periods of time. It has been observed that two in ten caregivers affected tend to have money related problems resulting from it. Other areas that could be affected are relationships with loved ones and even their own health. All these can become triggers for depression.
Caregivers with burnout could slip into drug abuse as a form of solace. From multiple accounts of care givers who have gone down this path, it usually begins with a routine of fighting off insomnia with pills or taking strong painkillers for a recurrent back ache that comes with the job, or trying to numb the emotional impacts of losing patients whom they have become attached to. From there on, it becomes a slippery slope and some graduate to using addictive drugs.
There are other physical signs of caregiver fatigue and stress and they include:
- Body aches
- Recurrent weakness and tiredness
- Persistent headaches after work hours
- Low immunity
What can be done about Caregiver stress and fatigue?
Ask for help
When these red flags pop up, do not keep it to yourself. Remember that there are other caregivers who have walked this path before and there are those who are older in the profession. Always open up to discuss with them as they may have well meaning advice and age-old tricks in the bag on how best to manage peculiar situations. In more serious cases, seek professional help from a psychiatrist who can help with managing the early signs of depression.
Use your free hours meaningfully
When not at work, caregivers should learn to spend their time outside the work environment. Engage in social activities with friends and family, build other interests that can help with relaxation and rejuvenation. It is important to have adequate amounts of sleep time each day as this will help the body recover from stress.
Exercise helps with building mental and physical stamina. It also boosts immunity and helps withstand stress.
The roles that caregivers play are very important and without them, a good number of the elderly and sick population would find it quite difficult coping with the challenges and limitations that come with aging and age-related illness. However, they have to be at their very best to be able to provide optimum services. Therefore, this is a call to all caregivers who are sacrificing their time and energy during this holiday season to also remember to take care of themselves as well so as to be able to take care of others in the long run. Happy holidays.