This is a guest article by Helen Porter, a freelance writer with experience working in the healthcare sector:


Caregiver Burnout – Why Carers Need To Take Time Out

Let’s take a moment to talk about the parents of troubled teens. Parents in these situations have a huge burden on them. Not only must they carry the stress and worry of having a child in trouble – they must also face the tacit blame which society puts (often unfairly) on the parents of people with problems. In addition to the day to day difficulties of caring for someone – especially a teenager – with mental health issues, this is a pretty heavy load to bear. Such a situation can take a hefty toll, and a phenomenon called ‘Caregiver Burnout’ is more common among parents caring for troubled offspring than among many other carer demographics.

Caregiver Burnout

‘Caregiver Burnout’ is, essentially, a depletion of emotional, mental, and physical resources to the point where the sufferer cannot function properly in the world. It’s dangerous, as those who experience caregiver burnout are not only suffering themselves, they will also be less able to look after their charge – and may even cause them harm. Symptoms of caregiver burnout include:

  • Withdrawal, and a tendency to isolate from loved ones.

  • Apathy towards activities which previously interested one.

  • Increased irritability.

  • Lashing out over minor upsets or frustrations.

  • Mood swings.

  • Fatigue, tending towards exhaustion.

  • Feelings of hopelessness.

  • Changes in appetite – either loss of appetite or emotional overeating.

  • Changes in weight.

  • Alteration in sleep patterns – insomnia, or oversleeping.

  • ‘Compassion fatigue’ – an exhaustion of compassion resources, or ‘desensitization’ to the plight of the one for whom you are caring (this is often a psychological defence mechanism to prevent too much distress).

  • A desire to hurt either yourself, your charge, or both.

  • Self-medication with substances (alcohol, drugs, or both).

  • Susceptibility to illness (caregiver burnout depletes the immune system).

Not all of these symptoms will be present in every case of caregiver burnout, but if you are starting to feel irritable, worn out, depressed, and frustrated, you may well be experiencing caregiver burnout.

Caregiver Burnout And Negative Behavior

Caregiver burnout is an awful thing for the person suffering – but it also often has negative effects on the person for whom they are caring. The desensitization and increased irritability can result in a loss of emotional control when a situation occurs which would otherwise be faced with emotional equilibrium. Shouting, arguments, and even violence can result from caregiver burnout – often provoked by relatively minor things. It’s ‘last straw’ syndrome. When you’re dealing with a child or teenager who may already be projecting a lot of negative emotion onto their parent, caregiver burnout provides a recipe for a seriously toxic family environment. Not to mention the fact that children often pick up on and subconsciously adopt their parents emotions. Even if the suffering caregiver manages to keep their emotions under control, their ability to care is often impeded by their fatigue and distraction. This is worth remembering for anyone who feels ‘guilty’ about not giving 100% of their time, mental energy, and resources to their troubled child – not taking time for yourself actually makes you a lot worse at caring than devoting the entirety of your time to that care. You really do need to give yourself a break.

What Can Be Done?

If you’re experiencing caregiver burnout, don’t worry. Here are a few tips which may help you:

  • Don’t feel guilty for feeling happy, for not worrying about them 24/7, or for taking ‘me time’. Constant worrying and care will just wear you out. Emotional and physical respite will improve your ability to care.

  • Do things which make you happy. Schedule time for yourself each week, and enjoy yourself to the full.

  • Get plenty of sleep, and take exercise. Walking in nature can be a fantastic balm for burned out emotions.

  • Do not be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame at all in not being to cope alone – this is a very difficult job, and nobody expects you to go it solo. Often, asking for and getting help is the best thing that you can do for both yourself and your child.

  • Eat as healthy and balanced a diet as you can. A good nutritional balance will honestly help you to feel well – both physically and emotionally.
  • Talk to your child about the way that you’re feeling, in such a way which does not imply that they are to blame. Reaching a resolution about problematic behaviors can help to broaden communication, enhance empathy, and generally prevent burnout.

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