The term “burning out” may not be one you’ve heard before or have associated with your caring role. However, it is commonly part of the caring role and can happen in every-day life situations as well, including being parents, or at work etc. This page will help you understand what burning out is, how to recognise the signs and symptoms, and how to stop yourself from burning out. Burning out is a term more familiar in the US, and we would refer to it as stress, but it has a longer term effect than stress.

What is it?

Burning out can refer to mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. It can be derived from built up frustration and your responsibilities of caregiving can just become too much. These will tend to build up over time, perhaps without you noticing at first, but then become more prevalent as you continue in your caring role and nothing changes.

Signs of burnout

Lots of these signs are very similar to stress and depression and can include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless or helpless
  • Feeling like you can’t continue with your caring responsibilities
  • Changes in weight, either from undereating or overeating
  • Having issues sleeping
  • Having a lack of energy
  • Suddenly bursting into tears whereas you wouldn’t have before
  • Increasing dependency on alcohol or sleeping pills
  • Becoming ill more frequently
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feeling annoyed and irritated at little things
  • Snapping at your cared one and others
  • Wanting to harm yourself or the person you care for.

If you feel you are going to harm yourself or the person you can you can talk to the Samitarians on 116 123.

What you can do about it

  • Seek professional advice – your GP will be a good starting point as they can put you in touch with counsellors/psychiatrists
  • Take some time out in every day to do something for you. This can be quite difficult when caring and their needs can be 24/7, but try and fit these round your responsibilities. Even if it’s just reading through the newspaper, or a chapter of a book, or a cup of tea. Take some solace in your own time. Read our tips on managing stress for more guidance on making time for yourself.
  • Writing down your feelings can help you explore themes and patterns around your behaviours. Do you become more stressed on a certain day? It can also help you track patterns of behaviour from your looked after one as well.

What not to do

Do not ignore it! If you feel yourself burning out and feel more pressured than normal, it will not just “pass” without you doing something to change your situation.

Do not try to relieve your situation with alcohol or drugs: drinking in moderation is fine, but trying to make yourself feel better with alcohol/drugs is a very short term solution. If dependency increases, this can lead to an addiction and other issues on top of your caring responsibilities.

If you are worried about your consumption of alcohol, talk to your GP or for more information please click here: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/

If you are worried about your drug intake, talk to your GP or click here: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/drugs/Pages/Drugshome.aspx

As you spend so much time caring for your loved one, it is hard to prioritise yourself, but once you’ve had a break or put some changes in to help you manage your situation easier, it may change your perspective on the caring role as a whole.

How do I stop myself from burning out in future?

  • Force yourself to have a break – this could be a couple of hours to meet up with your friend, or a couple of days respite care. Contact your local council for details on respite care, and see what is available for you. Do not feel guilty about having that break – you need it, and you deserve it. Make these breaks regular, and they will give you something to look forward from your caring role.
  • Ask for support – this can be from the local council or from family and friends. Is the personal care getting too much for you to cope with on your own? Do you need professional carers to come in to assist? Is cooking getting too much? Are you finding it hard to make healthy different meals for your loved one? Do you need to get in contact with a local food provider? Is money a worry? Are you getting all the benefits you might be entitled too?
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself. Do you have unrealistic expectations of what you can do? Do you respond to your loved ones every want and request as soon as possible? Is it possible, that once their basic needs are covered, you can manage their desires in your own time?

If caring for someone has made you tired and stressed it can be overwhelming to try and follow all of the advice one this page at once. It might help to talk about it with us over the phone, and we can recommend a couple of things to do now. This way, you’re going in the right direction, but not getting too overwhelmed.

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