Caring for an adult with IDD is done by a caregiver, either a professional or a family member. A caregiver is someone who helps with their personal and medical needs and is often a 24-hour job. Some adults with IDD need constant care with basic tasks like feeding and bathing. While the job can be gratifying, it can take an emotional and physical toll.

Healthcare workers experience a higher stress rate than most occupations; an accumulation of stress without taking breaks can become overwhelming and lead to burnout. Both professionals and family members can experience burnout when supporting an adult with I/DD. Recognizing the physical and emotional signs as well as making self-care a priority will help treat them.

Explore more about caregiver burnout. Learning what is it and how to prevent it will help you take better care of your client/loved one and yourself.

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout is the physical and emotional manifestation of stress from taking care of your loved one or client with I/DD. Even though it is a fulfilling occupation, if you don’t provide yourself with breaks and self-care, the demands can leave you feeling tired, irritated, and depressed.

Nearly every caregiver experiences burnout, but it’s essential to recognize the signs to prevent it. The care you provide to your family member or client/loved one will suffer as well as your own mental and physical health.

It can be hard to admit that you feel stressed out taking care of someone else, but you can’t care for someone else until you care for yourself. Learning the signs of burnout can help you prevent this from happening.

Caregiver Burnout vs. Stress

Burnout doesn’t happen all at once. Instead, it is a gradual accumulation of stress that leads to more severe physical and mental symptoms; while trying to juggle too many demands can cause it, burnout feels different than stress. While job stress might feel like you’re underwater, burnout feels as if you’re dried up. Here are some differences between stress and burnout:

  • Stress will make your emotions more heightened, while burnout makes your emotions dull.
  • Burnout will make you disengage, while stress typically causes over-engagement.
  • Stress makes everything feel urgent, while burnout makes everything feel hopeless.
  • Stress causes a loss of energy and can create anxiety disorders.
  • Burnout leads to depression and loss of hope.
  • Stress manifests itself more physically, while burnout is more emotional.

When you’re experiencing burnout, you feel exhausted and disengaged with your work because it might feel hopeless to even try to meet the demands, leading to the detriment of your client/loved one.

However, there are physical and emotional signs to prevent caregiver burnout, leading you to provide the best care for your client/loved one.

Physical Symptoms

Even though caregiver burnout has more emotional manifestations than stress, physical signs might signal that you need to take a break. While they are nonspecific, they can help you determine if you need more self-care. Here are physical symptoms to be aware of:

  • Lowered immune system
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Body aches
  • Chronic or frequent headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue

Emotional Symptoms

Emotional symptoms can be easy to dismiss, but you should take them as seriously as physical signs. Here are some common burnout symptoms to watch for:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and depression
  • Anxious thoughts
  • Prone to anger and arguments
  • Easily irritated and impatient
  • Worrying constantly
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Socially isolated
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and activities that you enjoy
  • Little to no motivation

It’s crucial to treat burnout once you notice physical and emotional symptoms, for both yourself and your client/loved one. For example, depression and irritability can lead to disengaging with the care of your client/loved one, while anger can lead to irritability directed toward them.

Fortunately, there are ways to treat burnout. You can also turn to these tips to prevent burnout from happening again in the future.

Dealing With Burnout

When you’re burned out, it can seem impossible to climb out of your depression and regain the energy you once had. But there are ways to act and overcome the symptoms, like taking breaks, reaching out to others, and staying healthy. Our nervous systems calm down when we feel heard and understood, and you can keep your physical health strong by staying active:

  • Assess — Take time to assess your mental and physical needs regularly. Be honest with yourself and know when you need to take a break or reach out.
  • Reach Out — Connecting with other people is an effective treatment for stress and depression. If you’re burned out, find someone to talk to about what is overwhelming or stressful. It can be a counselor or support group, but even your partner, friends, family, or co-workers can help.
  • Socialize— Isolation is another symptom to overcome with burnout. Make plans with friends and plan date nights with your partner. Also, seek out other caregivers for more support and encouragement during working hours.
  • Take a Break — Take a vacation or a few personal days to reset yourself. If you’re caring for a loved one, this can seem impossible, but ask another family member to step in to help with care. There are also services available to help with respite care.
  • Physical Health — Caring for physical health can fall to the wayside when you’re caring for an adult with IDD. But it’s paramount that you stay healthy to provide the best care. Here are ways to maintain your physical health:
  • Schedule doctors’ appointments when you feel ill or need preventative care.
  • Take your medication.
  • Exercise regularly to relieve stress and boost your energy.
  • Eat a healthy diet and try not to skip a meal.
  • Get plenty of sleep — even if that means napping.

Caregiver Toolkit

Another way to prevent caregiver burnout is to stay organized with a caregiver toolkit. For some, caregiving can start small and suddenly become a full-time job. As a result, it’s easy to feel unprepared and disorganized. However, with a few simple tips, you can stay ahead of situations with a caregiver toolkit:

  • Documents — Keep all records together and organized in a file folder or bookmarked on your computer. Important documents include:
  • Finances such as a living will and bank information
  • Contact information for healthcare providers and family
  • Health insurance information
  • Medication Log — List your client/loved one’s medication with dosage, doctor, and refill dates.
  • Calendar — Keep track of appointments and activities with a color-coded calendar or a time management app.

Caring for an adult with I/DD can be highly challenging, but it is a fulfilling and selfless job. Knowing you can’t do everything will treat caregiver burnout. What is it and how to prevent it begins with assessing your mental and physical needs—and meeting them! Delegate tasks, take breaks, and reach out to others when you need to.

If you’re caring for a loved one with IDD, you can learn more about caregiver training for family members. Contact CRA Learning for more information!

Caregiver Burnout: What It Is and How You Can Prevent It