4 Signs of Caregiver Overload and What You Can Do About it

While you care for your loved ones, think about this: Who is caring for you?

You may be a caregiver for a senior in your life, attending to their needs, assisting them in daily living or just being emotionally present for them.

But what about your needs? This is the question that not many bother to answer until it’s too late and you’ve burnt yourself out like a bulb whose fuse blows suddenly and unexpectedly.

Caregivers — whether personal or professional — spend more than time and money in caring for seniors. They also put in energy; emotional and mental energy. In other words, they give of themselves, but they can only do this successfully if they have something to give.

Over time, the effects of caregiver overload become apparent, but it’s at a critical point. The emotional, mental and physical toll on your body is only noticeable when the body’s processes are interrupted, or there is something wrong.

For caregivers, especially women, studies say, this expenditure of energy is particularly stressful. The effects are likely to be negative, affecting their mental health and well-being.

There are plenty of positive aspects of caregiving that significantly improve your experience of being present and showing up for family and relationships with love and care. But, adult caregivers to older parents still “view caregiving as extra work (role overload) and experience the burden of role reversal” (Chappell, Dujela, & Smith, 2014).

Caregiver overload is fairly common, however, if you’ve been pushing these signs under the rug, it may be time to address them:

  • Time: Have your friends been commenting on your total and complete disappearance from their lives? Do you always feel as though 24 hours in a day is just not enough? Feeling as though you don’t have enough time to maintain good relationships — whether that’s with your friends or yourself — is the most insidious of signs of caregiver overload. Insidious because this is an easy one to “rationalize” or reason away.
  • Mental Turbulence: Raise your hand if you’ve been experiencing any of the following. You feel like you’re overwhelmed continuously, even if you’re just sitting down. You experience insomnia, and you’re resigned to it. Perhaps your mind is busy running through “to-do” lists relating to your family, on top of caring for your loved ones. You feel a sense of busyness, mild to severe panic and the word “survival” keeps coming to the foreground of your mind. “I’ve got to handle it,” you think for the umpteenth time. The burden is real.
  • Emotional Deficits: When you’re with your partner, spouse, friends, kids or co-workers, you’re “present” in body only. The exhaustion is so severe, you’re simply unable to connect with what they are saying, and you feel isolated and distant from everyone most of the time. There’s a pervasive sense of, “they simply won’t get it.” If you have siblings and you’re caring for your adult parents, you may start to feel (or perhaps you have been trying to ignore) an insistent sense of resentment. The target varies from your siblings to your kids to your spouse and maybe even your senior loved ones themselves.
  • Physical Drain: Your physical health is suffering, and you begin to notice you’re a little clumsier. Maybe you’re suddenly tripping a lot more frequently. You try and head to a yoga class, and suddenly you’re feeling pain in your wrists where there wasn’t any before. You’re prone to backaches, neck spasms, ankle sprains. That’s your physical body telling you that you’re vulnerable. You need more physical care and nourishment in the form of consistent eating schedules, better quality sleep or even massages. Since many of us end up holding much of our stress energy in our upper, lower and mid back muscles, strains and pulls here could indicate an external sense of exhaustion.

Bringing Back Balance

If you are experiencing any of these signs — combined or in isolated occurrences — the situation could get worse unless you address it.

Before even attempting to de-stress, there’s an essential step you must take to come back to your center.

Adult caregivers are often plagued by an internal monologue. And it’s some version of the following:

“I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to do it ALL. It’s got to be me because if it isn’t, who else is going to step up? Anyway, I can do the best job. They’re my family, after all. That’s what family does, right? We watch out and care for each other when one of us needs it. My parents have done so much for me…it’s my turn. The loved ones in my life deserve my time, care and attention.”

Notice how the core themes of this story are about compulsion, guilt and “doing” as a sign of love?

  • Before you can start to de-stress, you must also begin to let go of this story you have been telling yourself.
  • If you have siblings, they can be just as responsible for your parents or senior family members as you are. Give them a chance to show up.
  • Break up the days you spend with your loved ones with some professional assistance and care.
  • Install a couple of handy devices around the house that will address any mobility or emergency issues your senior family members might experience.

Consider these options not as substitutions but as supplements and forms of support. They’re present in your life to try and alleviate some of the burden and stress from caregiving overload.

In the meanwhile, you can begin to de-stress by doing the following:

  • Plan a day out with your family or friends and re-connect. You can head out and see a show in the city or go for a hike together. Leave your phones off and “disconnect”.
  • Keep your body moving rather than tapping out for the day and sleeping in. Doing this will make you feel lethargic and groggy instead of refreshed. Instead, head for a light meditative yoga class, a walk in the park or even do some light household chores you’ve been putting off.
  • Book yourself for a massage and work with a physiotherapist or mobility specialist to increase your body’s range of motion and well-being.
  • Sit in an armchair, listen to your favorite podcasts or create a playlist of soft, comforting music and commit to listening to them.
  • Begin using a sleeping tool to soothe yourself before bedtime. Cultivate a bedtime routine that you carry out, no matter what, every evening. This can be washing your face or reading a few more pages of your book. Or both.
  • Start to include more herbal teas into your daily routine and avoid caffeine after 12 p.m. Stick to blends like chamomile, rooibos, peppermint, and lavender.

Self-care, like caregiving, is a practice. You’ve got to commit to it even if you don’t always want to.

Think about it this way: if you run yourself into the ground, who will be there to look after your loved ones with as much care as you do?