Carers, stress, depression, and fatigue
Caring for a loved one may leave you feeling emotionally and physically drained at times.
The Carer's Trust says caring often means being on call 24/7 and can be exhausting. Carers need to develop a routine that ensures they have some time for themselves.
What are the symptoms of carer fatigue?
Fatigue can show similar symptoms to that of stress or depression:
- Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Feeling low, irritable, hopeless, or helpless
- Changes in appetite, weight or both
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Frequently becoming ill
- Feelings of wanting to hurt oneself, or the person cared for
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Feeling irritable
What causes carer fatigue?
Carer fatigue is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Factors that may lead to fatigue can be:
- Role confusion - many people find it difficult to establish and separate their role as carer and their role as spouse, child, or friend.
- Unrealistic expectations - many carers expect their involvement to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the person being cared for. This may be unrealistic for those suffering from degenerative or progressive diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
- Lack of control - many carers become frustrated by a lack of money, resources and skills to effectively plan, manage, and organise their loved one’s care.
- Unreasonable demands - some carers place unreasonable burdens upon themselves, in part, because they see providing care as their exclusive responsibility.
- Recognising illness - many carers cannot identify when they are suffering from fatigue. If left untreated, fatigue can lead to the carer becoming sick and being temporarily unable to provide care.
How can I prevent carer fatigue?
Here is a list of strategies to help prevent carer fatigue:
- Find someone you trust, such as a friend or colleague, and talk about your feelings and frustrations. Don’t be afraid to ask relatives or friends for support.
- Set realistic goals and accept that you may need help with caring.
- Set aside time for yourself, it is not a luxury, it’s essential. Try to focus on relaxing or being sociable and catching up with friends and family.
- Talk to professionals. Your GP is a good starting point - they will be able to help you deal with a range of physical or emotional needs.
- Research respite care services. Charities such as Carers Trust provide support workers to allow carers some time to themselves.
- Know your limits. Learn to recognise your own symptoms of fatigue and seek help when you start feeling overstretched.
- Educate yourself, the more you know about a disease or condition, the more effective you will be in caring for the person with the illness.
- Learn to be an optimist and try to meet challenging circumstances with a positive attitude.
- Stay healthy by eating a healthy, balanced diet and by getting plenty of exercise and sleep.
- Accept your emotions. Negative feelings, such as anger or frustration, towards the person you care for are completely normal. When you feel stressed take five minutes apart from the person you care for, concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths until you feel calm.
- Join a carers support group. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others in the same situation can help you manage stress and reduce feelings of isolation.