It takes a village or so goes the popular phrase, and that is definitely the case when it comes to caregiving after a spinal cord injury. Sadly, many times after a spinal cord injury, the family and friends of the person injured will take on caregiving roles enthusiastically, only to find themselves overwhelmed and exhausted months and years later. But this does not have to occur.
There are smart ways to take on the caregiving role without getting burned out. But first, it's important to know the warning signs of caregiver burnout. Ignoring your own needs for too long can have detrimental consequences. Over 50 million Americans are caregivers for family members, without being paid, and many of them are caregivers for those with spinal cord injuries.
Even if health insurance does cover caregivers or personal care attendants, it is still possible for family members to experience caregiver burnout. Here are the warning signs to be aware of to make sure caregiver burnout does not happen to you.
Withdrawal from Others
One of the most common signs of caregiver burnout is no longer wanting to spend time with your usual group of friends. Your friends will definitely notice and may say something. If they do, do not take it personally, it only means they love you and miss you. Many people do not understand how exhausting it can be as a caregiver.
Withdrawal from Favorite Activities
As caregiving takes its toll, you may find yourself withdrawing from your hobbies and other things you typically enjoy doing. This could include working out, karaoke night at your favorite bar or simply taking a moment to shop. It can be difficult having an opportunity to do any of these things when you're busy as a caregiver. If you experience burnout, you will notice that you will no longer even want to do any of your favorite things anymore.
Changes in Appetite
Since caregiver burnout is like stress and depression, a common sign you'll notice is a change in appetite. Some people may experience an increase in appetite, while others will no longer be interested in food. With this symptom, you'll usually see a change in weight as well, whether it is gaining or losing. Binge eating is another sign of caregiver burnout, as it can help people feel good instantaneously.
A change in sleep patterns is another sign of caregiver burnout. For some, they will have trouble falling asleep, with much-experiencing insomnia. It can be difficult shutting the mind down after a caregiving shift. Also, the exhaustion from caregiver burnout can cause this. On the opposite end of the spectrum, people may also sleep too much if they have caregiver burnout.
You are Sick Often
Since being a caregiver for a loved one can often be a nonstop job, which leads to a lack of sleep and oftentimes a poor diet, this can make your body less resistant to bugs you may encounter. So, if you find yourself getting sick on a regular basis, catching everything you encounter, you may be experiencing caregiver burnout.
Overwhelming Feelings of Helplessness
One of the saddest symptoms of caregiver burnout is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, as many feel it has taken over their lives and there's no way out, especially if there are no other family members available to help. Many caregivers must put their lives on hold, and their dreams, which can cause this feeling. Just know you're not alone. Familial obligations as caregivers can be difficult, but many out there understand what you're going through.
Another red flag of caregiver burnout is becoming more impatient and find yourself arguing with the person you're caring for or with others you're around on a regular basis. Feeling irritable is another sign of caregiver burnout.
You Can't Relax
If you work too much as a caregiver, you can find yourself having difficulty relaxing even when you have time off. This is not good, as you should enjoy your time off and be able to relax. Mindfulness and meditation can assist with this.
You Have Zero Energy
One of the most common signs of caregiver burnout is having little to zero energy left for day-to-day activities. This overwhelming feeling of exhaustion is a sign of caregiver burnout and is not simply because you're simply tired.
What Can You Do About It?
Even if you live in a rural area with not many people around to assist you, there are still ways you can find help and feel supported. One of the first things you can do is join an online support group for caregivers. There are several on Facebook. One of the best is. You should also invite people over into the home when you’re caregiving, if possible, to feel less isolated. If you cannot leave the home, you can at least still enjoy social interactions.
And if possible, try to set up a time for you to get away by recruiting help, and then taking care of important things like bowel and skincare before you leave. You can find temporary help on Care.com or by posting a want ad at your closest hospital.
Written by Vincent DolanA the Director of Public Affairs at SpinalCord.com Vincent has had the opportunity to speak with thousands of individuals (and families) during every step of the recovery process. Vincent has combined his legal and marketing expertise to create the single largest resource for those impacted by a spinal cord or other catastrophic injury. While gathering and sharing these resources Vincent also spends time answering the SpinalCord.com hotline which allows him to better understand what families are going through. Vincent is actively involved in supporting various non profits within the SCI community, and is always open to helping in whatever way he can. Vincent also works with our sponsors Swope, Rodante P.A. to ensure families have every opportunity to obtain the resources which improve the quality of life for individuals after a spinal cord injury.
See what Swope, Rodante Has Done for Others With Catastrophic Injuries
“What made me most excited was to be able to help my family, being able to pull the burden out of them that they’ve been struggling with. That’s what made me feel the best. Everything else to come, is to come. And we’re going to live life how we have been, just not going to have to worry about buying the supplies that I need.”
"As I got better, which I did in the future, I think I remember researching them [Swope, Rodante P.A.] myself and found that they are very good at what they do. "