The Twin Terrors of Burnout

The old saying: “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you”, could also read don’t do to yourself what you don’t want others to do to you. A few editions ago, I wrote an article directed at employers about caring for their caregivers.

This article is directed at the caregiver, being a caregiver is a vocation for those with big hearts. They often care so much, that they sacrifice themselves, their time, their energy and emotions.

The reason you may be giving so much of your energy, may be because you only want what is best for your client or you could be afraid of losing your job. For example, your client’s needs take priority while your own needs are not met, and if your client is in a bad mood, you put up with the verbal abuse and say nothing. In the meantime, you become more and more stressed and more and more exhausted.

However, this is the reality of the work that you chose. Unfortunately, difficult work situations will not go away, but they can be managed. You need to realise that you are not being weak or dramatic and that your body is giving a completely normal reaction to the stress felt in your work situation. Being aware of what is happening to you, makes it easier to understand how to manage it. Most importantly, you must not be afraid to ask for help because if you crash, both you and your client are in trouble.

Here are some of the red flags of stress

  • Do you lie awake at night worrying about things that seem silly the next morning?
  • Are you too tired to go out with friends?
  • Have you stopped laughing?
  • Are you cruising in “emotional neutral” where you do not allow yourself to become angry but you are never happy either?
  • Do you become irritable with everyone except your client, lashing out for no reason?
  • Has caring for your client become the only priority in your life and nothing else matters anymore?

What causes exhaustion?

  • The mental strain of sleeping ‘with one eye open’ to ensure that nothing happens to your client, while you are sleeping.
  • The physical strain of picking up, turning and positioning your client.
  • The emotional strain of remaining calm, professional and friendly, in the face of your client’s frustrations and irritations – even taking abuse because you need the job.

The double whammy is that stress feeds exhaustion and exhaustion feeds stress…

Understanding the causes of stress and exhaustion is probably the greatest reliever of stress. Once you can recognise these stressors, you overcome the fear of the unknown. The next step is to actively manage your stress and exhaustion. There is no magic formula that works for everyone.

Tips to relieve stress

  • Talk to your client. They need to know how you feel. Do this even if you feel scared.
  • If someone offers to help, take them up on their offer.
  • Visit friends even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Exercise regularly - it builds your strength and stamina.
  • Eat regularly and healthy.
  • Reading a book may be much more relaxing than watching TV and may put you to sleep much faster.
  • Don’t drink. Alcohol and drugs may seem to relieve stress and give you energy in the short term but in the long run they just make things worse.
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