Understanding Caregiver Burnout

As a parent or guardian of a child with CPP, you are also their caregiver, which can be as rewarding as it is challenging. Dealing with CPP symptoms, scheduling appointments, managing insurance claims, and considering treatment options are just a few bullets on a seemingly endless to-do list. Caregivers commonly experience caregiver burnout or caregiving fatigue, the feeling of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It can be especially difficult to realize and confront the effects of caregiver burnout in yourself–but it’s important to address them.

Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

The symptoms of caregiver burnout include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too little or too much)
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Irritability
  • Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Changes in appetite or weight (or both)
  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling lonely or isolated

It’s important not to ignore the symptoms of caregiving fatigue, as it can have a negative impact on your lifelong health. Long-term effects of stress include serious mental health issues, trouble with memory and focus, a weakened immune system, digestive problems, and an increased risk for chronic diseases.

How to Combat Caregiver Burnout

When we hear the term ‘self-care,’ you may be tempted to roll your eyes. We tend to think of face masks and bubble baths–but in reality, self-care is much more personal. So let’s redefine how we think of self-care. Burnout is real and you need to make time for yourself in order to be the caregiver your child needs. Self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate or fancy; it just has to give you an escape. It might be going for a long swim, reading a book, or watching some reality TV.

Say you injured your ankle while on a run. You wouldn’t wake up the next day and go for another run on your twisted ankle, right? You would tape it, ice it, elevate it, or maybe even see a doctor about it. So as a caregiver, why would you continue to push yourself if you’re feeling burned out? Self-care is critical for recovery from caregiving burnout. If you are experiencing caregiving fatigue, try some of these simple tips:

Take Care of Your Body

This includes eating regular meals, getting enough sleep, and moving your body. Stress tends to accompany busyness, and missing a little sleep or grabbing fast food can seem like an easy, time-saving solution, and there’s no shame in doing that when you need to! But try not to make it a habit. Go to bed and wake up at around the same time, getting between seven to nine hours of sleep. Avoid skipping meals and take the time to prepare balanced, satisfying food. Get active when you can. It doesn’t have to be a full-on workout; take a walk, spend some time in the garden, or go on a bike ride–whatever gets you moving and makes you feel good.

Complete Small Tasks

A CPP diagnosis for your child can make you feel overwhelmed and out of control. Regain some of that control mentally by completing small tasks on your to-do list. It can be something as simple as laundry or meal prep. Call and make one appointment or read one CPP-related article. Once you’ve accomplished something tangible that you can cross off your to-do list, you can jump back into the chaos in a calmer state of mind.

Try a Coloring Book

Adult coloring books have become popular for a reason! They’re a great way to practice focus and mindfulness while also taking a brain break by being able to concentrate on something a little less stressful. You can even do this one with your kiddo for some extra bonding time together.

Do Some Journaling

It’s a cliche for a reason – writing down your thoughts and feelings is a great way to release whatever you may be feeling: Frustration, guilt, anger, or sadness. It gives you a place to vent with no judgment. Especially if you’re overwhelmed by the medical paperwork and mental load of a CPP diagnosis, your journal can help you organize your thoughts. It can also be a place where you list the positives in your life and where you can remind yourself what you’re grateful for.

Spend Quality Time with Friends or Family

Caregivers often withdraw from those around them, which contributes to feelings of isolation and loneliness–especially if you feel like those around you don’t understand what you’re going through. But it’s important not to shrink away from these relationships. Take the initiative to meet up with friends or have a video call. They may not understand exactly what you’re experiencing, but they can be a critical part of your support system.

Read a Book

This can be an opportunity for pure escapism or a chance to learn coping methods and techniques to help you avoid burnout. Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle is a New York Times best-seller that explores why women experience burnout differently than men and provides a science-based plan to help you minimize stress and manage emotions. Though the book was written for women, it teaches techniques that can be helpful for everyone who deals with stress, regardless of gender identity. You’ll learn:

  • How to complete the biological stress cycle and return the body to a state of relaxation
  • How to manage the monitor in your brain that regulates the emotion of frustration
  • Why rest, human connection, and befriending your inner critic are all key to recovering and preventing burnout

Self-care can feel selfish when you’re a caregiver. But in reality, it’s an essential part of maintaining your ability to be the best possible caregiver you can be. Feeling burned out from caring for your child does not mean you’re a bad parent; it just means you’re human!

Because November is National Family Caregivers Month, make sure you’re making your mental health a priority this month. Taking time to practice self-care provides a way for you to reclaim part of your identity and your time. Know your limits and prevent future occurrences of caregiver burnout by continuing to implement these self-care tips in your daily life.