According to the National Alliance of Caregiving the likelihood of receiving "free" care from a spouse is higher than that of any other family member. This is especially true when the care provided is particularly time intensive (21+ hours/week). Add the fact that this typically comes at a time when income is fixed and the caregiving spouse can understandably feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Needless to say, because of the significant changes in the marital relationship and added responsibilities, like finances and household chores, spousal caregivers can be especially prone to "caregiver burnout".
WebMD defines caregiver burnout as "a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude". As caregivers-and spousal caregivers especially-it's important to know and recognize the signs of burnout and learn how best to manage the symptoms.
10 Signs of Spousal Caregiver Burnout
- Withdrawal from your friends and family
- Lack of energy or overwhelming fatigue. Sleeping too little (or too much)
- Changes in appetite. Noticeable weight gain or weight loss
- An abnormal feeling of hopelessness, helplessness or depression
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Increased headaches, stomach-aches, or getting sick more often than you used to.
- Neglecting your own physical and emotional needs
- Self medicating with alcohol and/or other medications
- Becoming unusually impatient, irritable or argumentative, especially when combined with feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person in your care
- Feeling of emotional exhaustion; difficulty coping with everyday things. The sense that caregiving is controlling your life.
Though this list is not be exhaustive, it gives some of the top warning signs we notice when addressing caregiver burnout.
It's important to remember that experiencing some of these signs is completely normal and, because of the situation, some symptoms of burnout may not be avoidable. Nevertheless, now that you know what to look for, here are a few tips to help you address caregiver burnout before it becomes a problem.
Top Tips to Prevent Spousal Caregiver Burnout
- Caregiving is hard work, take regular breaks. Get out of the house. Meet a friend for coffee. Take a bath. Read a book. Go for a long walk. Get a massage or pedicure. All of these can be a wonderful respite to the stress and exhaustion of taking care of an ailing spouse. If you are still working full time and taking time off is a concern perhaps checking into family-leave benefits from your workplace would help ease some of the burden.
- Don't neglect your own care. Eat well, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. Even though you're busy, make time for family, friends and the hobbies you enjoy. Make sure not to skip doctors appointments or other important self care tasks. We all have a tendency to overlook our own physical care when taking on the care of others. Additionally, taking time to pray or meditate can help you stay mentally and spiritually strong in the face of adversity.
- Watch for signs of burnout. Keep the above list in mind and evaluate yourself from time to time. Are you feeling more depressed than usual? Have you become increasingly impatient with your loved one? While some of this may be a completely normal response to the stress you are under, it's important to trust your instincts and seek out help when you feel particularly overwhelmed. This leads to our last tip:
- Ask for Help! No one can do everything alone. As the needs of your spouse or loved one become more demanding, accepting help can go a long way in preventing burnout. Make a list of your daily responsibilities and see if you can delegate any of your tasks. Friends and family usually want to offer their assistance, don't be afraid to take them up it. Maybe a neighbor can help prepare a few meals, perhaps a friend can run errands. These seemingly small tasks can make a world of difference for you when you don't have to worry about them. If you are still feeling overwhelmed or don't have the resources to pass on some of your tasks you can seek support from professional caregivers in your area. Most in-home care agencies provide a range of services to fit your needs and would be glad to help take some of the load off your shoulders, as little or as much as that may require.
Too often we hear stories of a spouse getting overwhelmed in the care for their loved one and it's our desire to help. At Home by Choice it is our goal is to keep our clients safe, happy, and healthy in the comfort of their home. This includes assisting spouses in any way we can.
As a spousal caregiver, burnout can be a real challenge and we have designed our services with this in mind. Whether you need just a little help so you can take better care of yourself or you feel like you need someone to provide full-time assistance, we understand and we are here.
To schedule a free consultation simply contact us here, we'd love to discuss how we can help you and your spouse.