Millions of Caregivers Suffer from Burnout, but There are Ways to Combat Problem

(UNDATED) Millions of American caregivers may be suffering from burnout, but Kelly Fischer, a senior lecturer of psychological science at Ball State University, says there are simple ways to combat the problem.

Kelly Fischer, a senior lecturer of psychological science at Ball State University

Burnout is “a state of emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress,” said Fischer, who provides stress management training and burnout avoidance training to first responders and to caregivers.

Fischer pointed out that burnout is often experienced by caregivers. According to data from AARP, there about 66 million caregivers in the United States. In Indiana, there are more than 800,000 (about 13 percent of the population). 

Fischer said signs of burnout may include:

  • Feeling like every day is a bad day.
  • You think caring about your work or home life seems like a waste of time.
  • You’re exhausted all of the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

The problem has become so widespread across all employment sectors that in May, the World Health Organization announced it is developing guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace and unveiled an expanded definition of “burnout” based on new research.

“There are many things that can cause burnout, including role confusion, where you are torn between being a caregiver and being a family member or friend to the person for whom you provide assistance,” said Fischer, who is a caregiver to her disabled adult son.  “Caregivers experience burnout when they place unrealistic expectations upon themselves, thinking they have to do everything, and do everything perfectly with no errors and cannot complain. 

To avoid or mitigate burnout, Fischer suggests incorporating some of these handy tools into daily life:

  • Schedule a relaxing ritual into each day. It could mean 15 minutes with headphones listening to your favorite music or reading a book, or a quick walk.  
  • Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits.  
  • Set boundaries. Learn to say no when you feel maxed out.
  • Take a daily break from technology. You do not have to be accessible 24/7 and technology makes it hard for you to set boundaries and focus on yourself.  
  • Indulge your creative side. Perhaps take up a hobby, or pursue an art.  
  • Talk to a professional about healthy coping strategies.

Already experiencing burnout? Try these tips from Fischer:

  • Slow down. Cut back on commitments and activities. Give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.
  • Get support. Turn to your loved ones and share your feelings. You will likely find there are people in your life who are willing to relieve some of the burdens.
  • Re-evaluate your goals and priorities. There may be things that you think are “Must-dos” that are not crucial. There also may be things that keep getting dropped down the priority list that should be at the top (like self-care).
  • Sometimes it helps to have someone give feedback on your evaluation of the situation.