Working as a caregiver in a nursing home is a demanding profession, both physically and emotionally, and you may find yourself getting burnout over time. If you’re ready to throw in the towel (or rather, the adult bib), then read on to discover what caregiver burnout is and what you can do about it.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Burnout occurs when people give more than they are able to and struggle to re-energize themselves. Some common symptoms of caregiver burnout include:
- Feelings of depression, hopelessness and helplessness
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Lowered self-esteem
- Sleep problems, either sleeping too much or too little
- Constant fatigue that never goes away
- Changes in appetite, either eating more or eating less
- Unexplained physical ailments, such as headaches, stomachaches, etc. with no other obvious cause
- Lack of interest in activities which you previously found enjoyment
Most people experiencing caregiver burnout usually exhibit a cluster of symptoms over a period of time, such as weeks or months. Burnout looks different for everyone, and your symptoms might not be the same as someone else’s. This is why it’s important to get to know yourself and what’s normal for you so you can spot any changes that arise.
Caregiving burnout means that individual caregivers aren’t flourishing as much as they could. However, it also has implications for the facility at large. Caregivers suffering from burnout are more likely to let something slip through the cracks or to neglect a resident, either unintentionally or intentionally. This can lead to complaints and even lawsuits if the situation escalates far enough. For managers, preventing caregiver burnout isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also a smart business practice.
Causes of Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout is a complex phenomenon that can have multiple overlapping causes. Caregiving is a highly demanding profession, both emotionally and physically, and this can take its toll over time. You may feel like a failure for not being able to make your patients well, even when there is no way to do so. This is a common feeling among both professional and volunteer caregivers.
As a professional caregiver, you might simply have too much work to do, which is a recipe for burnout in any job. You might also struggle with conflicting policies that your facility has put in place — for instance, rules that prevent you from doing certain activities for the elderly that you believe would be helpful for your clients. If you have caregiving responsibilities outside of your job (i.e., children you are taking care of at home or your own elderly relatives that you must care for), then that will also take a toll on you.
A lack of autonomy can also result in feelings of burnout. When you work as a professional caregiver, your days are dictated by your supervisor and the patient care plans, and you may have little to no say in how your day goes — even though you are the one spending the most time with the patient. Feeling empowered to do something as simple as helping residents find adaptive clothing for seniors can go a long way in easing your exhaustion. After all, this lack of independence in your work life can result in those feelings of helplessness that are often a hallmark of caregiver burnout.
Risks for Caregiver Burnout
Certain factors can increase your chances of developing caregiver burnout. One of the major factors is working at a facility that is understaffed. Having to do extra work, coupled with the emotional toll of caregiving, is almost certainly guaranteed to result in burnout.
Poor management is another potential contributing factor. Supervisors who do not clearly communicate expectations, or who constantly change their minds mid-task, will lead to frustrated employees who feel like nothing they do matters. Supervisors who completely neglect their employees or who micromanage them closely can also contribute to burnout.
Overall workplace culture is another factor to consider. If the workplace is a toxic environment, full of backbiting and gossip, that can also add to the burden employees are already carrying. If you feel like your coworkers are out to get you, then you are less likely to ask for help, which means that the chances of you getting overwhelmed with your workload are higher.
What to Do About Caregiver Burnout
Practicing stress-reduction techniques is one of the most important ways you can stop burnout before it happens. Experiment with different methods — exercise, meditation, hot baths, etc. — and figure out what works for you. Try to do an activity several times a week, or every day if possible.
Taking breaks is also important for recovering from burnout. This includes both daily breaks like lunches and longer breaks like vacations. It can be tempting to just work through your breaks when you have a lot on your plate, but taking a break really does allow you to come to your work refreshed and replenished.
If you’re a supervisor, one thing that you can do to help protect your employees from burnout is establishing a wellness program and providing mental health resources, such as counselors. Establishing flexible schedules can also help employees feel more in control of their time. Keep an eye on employees who are overworking and encourage them to take breaks. If you have control over finances, try putting more of the budget into staffing. An understaffed facility is practically a guarantee of both employee burnout and resident complaints.
Burnout is a very real risk in caregiving professions, but that doesn’t mean that it is inevitable. Watch yourself closely for signs of burnout and refer back to these tips to help you combat it when you begin to feel overwhelmed.