by Andrea Watson | December 29, 2020
Caregiver work is rewarding and fulfilling. Often the people who hold these types of jobs love the work and the people passionately. I know I did. I worked as a supervisor at a house where we cared for two young adult ladies who were severely disabled to the point of not being able to dress, feed, or toilet themselves. There is a dire need for people to fill these types of positions. Other caregiver roles include such things as working in day programs for the developmentally disabled, nursing, geriatric care, hospice, or CNA work. There is also a dire need for these types of positions to be filled as well. These jobs include a wide range of duties and require an array of certifications depending upon what the position is. Some of these jobs pay very little. For example, as a supervisor in my care giving job, I only made $13.50 per hour. Some positions, like nursing, pay more.
In these types of jobs you give, then you give some more. And then you give again and again, repeating this pattern over and over. You give your time; often caregiver jobs require 12+ hour shifts all week long and overtime is definitely not unheard of. You sacrifice your family time in doing this, as well as your personal time and social time. Just count those out completely. You sacrifice your heart and become emotionally vulnerable. It is very difficult to work in a caregiver capacity and not become emotionally entangled in the lives of those you care for. It just happens, even if you don’t want it to. You sacrifice your breaks. In certain roles such as direct in-home care provider, you often have clients who are line-of-sight. This means that they must be in your direct line of vision at all times and therefore you do not get a break away from your client at all during your shift.
Caregivers often overwork themselves. For example, there was a period of time a few winters back where I was so short-staffed, it was really hard to get anyone to come in and relieve me. I was working 90 hour work weeks and my longest shift lasted for over 30 hours. This is not the way it should go, but in this particular company it was the way that it did go. It takes a very special type of person to fulfill a caregiver role. The ideal candidate is rare, and there is a lot of staff turnover involved. This is especially true if the parents or guardians of the clients are extra involved and picky. Mine were. I was hiring new staff weekly because they didn’t approve of this or that, or the new girl had gotten something wrong or she just didn’t look or smell right. Parents can make it especially difficult to get a full staff of caregivers, and they do.
So it is easy to see why burnout is such a danger when you hold one of these jobs, yes? It’s like going down to the water hole for a drink in Africa. If you aren’t careful enough, the crocodile will snap your head right off. Burnout can come quickly and without warning. You may not be able to see the signs of your condition before you hit your wall for a number of reasons. You are too absorbed in the work, or you enjoy your participants so much you don’t notice the strain. My problem was both of those plus I’m a certified workaholic and have no ability to achieve balance between work and home life.
Many caregivers, especially those who work with the developmentally disabled have disabled or ill children or other family members in their lives. The work kind of just attracts them, perhaps because they live with it, or perhaps it’s some other reason. I’m sure it differs from person to person. But if this is the case for you as it was for me, life was and endless cycle of going from work, back to your work at home, back to your paid work, back to your work at home, over and over again endlessly. This increases your risk for burnout and decreases the amount of time you will be able to hang on in your paid job.
So what are the signs of burnout and what does it look like? Well, I have a handy list here, let’s give it a read! You may be experiencing burnout if:
- You are having sleeping problems, getting either too much or too little sleep
- You have overwhelming fatigue
- You are experiencing a lack of energy
- You are feeling hopeless
- You experience a change in your appetite or eating habits, gaining or losing weight
- You are losing interest in or withdrawing from activities you usually enjoy
- You start neglecting your own needs
- You are having anxiety about the future
- You feel like care giving is controlling your life
- You become impatient, argumentative, or irritable with those you are caring for
- You have difficulty coping with everyday things
- You are depressed or are having mood swings
- You are having headaches, stomach aches, or other bothersome physical problems
- Your resistance to illness is lowered
If you are experiencing one, a few, or all of these things you are likely dealing with caregiver burnout. You can recover from burnout if you act quickly and really focus on yourself, but prevention is key here. There is another level of burnout that we call “hitting your wall”. If you hit your wall, it’s different. It’s terminal. It’s the end, and that can change your career path and maybe your life forever. This is what happened to me. It’s a story that ended up in homelessness and other desperate, crazy things. My life will never be the same.
So what can you do to prevent your burnout? Well, here’s another great list!
- Ask for help! Nobody can do it alone and nobody expects you to. Every caregiver needs help now and then, as well as moral and emotional support. Don’t be quiet about it-protect yourself and speak up!
- Make time for yourself. Give yourself permission to take breaks. The world is not going to fall apart if you are not there 24/7. Visit friends, take a walk, lay in a bubble bath til the water gets cool. Work on your favorite hobby, get some self-care in your life. This is truly important for everyone, but especially for someone in a care giving role.
- Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, and don’t skip your appointments.
- Make an extra 15 minutes at the beginning of your day and use this time to meditate, or even pray.
- Delegate some of your at-home tasks. Maybe laundry, grocery shopping, or meal preparation can be done by somebody else a couple times per week. Take people up on their offers to help.
- Check into family leave benefits and if they are available to you then use them!
- Find a local support group for your situation. Open up and share your joys and frustrations.
- If you have a disabled one at home, consider using hospice care when the opportunity for a getaway pops up for you.
I am big on self-care. You must do this if you are in the care giving field. It is the only way to retain your sanity and add longevity to your care giving days. It may be sad to think about, but care giving is not usually a lifelong career path. It can lead to an early death. Rough statistics show that around 30% of care givers die before those they are caring for. This job takes so much out of you, it just drains the life right away, even as fulfilling as it is. If you believe that you or someone you know is facing burnout, do something about it quick! You can pull out of it and you owe it to yourself to do so. Until next time,