Dealing With Caregiver Fatigue

Caregiver Fatigue: It's More Than Being Tired

By Elliott Douglass, BSN, RN, CWOCN

You've likely been on an airplane and heard the flight attendant say, “Fasten your safety belts, and in case of emergency, apply the oxygen mask to yourself first before assisting others.” I often wondered about that last part. As a nurse, aren’t I supposed to help others before helping myself? It got me thinking about nurses as a whole and how we always sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. We provide care for our patients, we provide care for our families and, in some cases, we are the go-to for anything medical for friends and family members too. There is no “off day” when you are a nurse.

But who takes care of us? 

Caregiver fatigue is a not-so-new concept, but it is beginning to take centerstage as healthcare workers — nurses in particular — are experiencing higher levels of burnout from simply caring too much.

"Sometimes we need to remember its okay to apply the oxygen mask first."

What are some signs of caregiver fatigue?

According to WebMD.com, common signs of caregiver fatigue include the follow:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless and helpless
  • Changes in appetite, weight or both
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Frequent sickness
  • Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Excessive use of alcohol and/or sleep medications

How to Avoid or Prevent Caregiver Fatigue

Yes I know. We are nurses. We are SUPPOSED to care. But you can NOT care for others if you  can't take care of yourself. There are ways to combat caregiver fatigue and some sound like common sense but are often neglected. Here are some ways to avoid burnout and caregiver fatigue:

Sleep at least 6-9 hours a night. Make time for sleep, even if you have to write it in on your busy schedule.

Eat right. Easier said than done with all the treats and things in hospitals or that patients give you for taking such good care of them, right? You can have treats every now and then, but eating healthy most of the time will help you see and feel a difference overall.

Exercise. Even a walk around the hospital during lunch break will help cortisol levels (the stress hormone) decrease substantially and will help your outlook not so grey either.

Talk about it. Talk to friends, co-workers or someone you trust, even if just to vent.

Have a hobby outside of caregiving. Do you love to paint? Then paint. Do you love to get lost in the woods? Then go get lost in the woods. Do something that feeds your soul. Don't forget about yourself because you're too busy caring for someone else. Set aside time for yourself, even if it's just a short time each day. Remember, taking care of yourself is not a luxury; it is an absolute necessity if you're going to be an effective caregiver.

Know your limits. Being a nurse is a calling. It’s what we live for, but sometimes we need to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. Sometimes we need to remember its okay to apply the oxygen mask first.

Elliott Douglass BSN, RN, CWOCN, is a 20-year nurse veteran and a certified wound, ostomy, continence nurse in Nashville, TN. She loves the great outdoors and hunting with her fiancé, Chris. They have a son, Hunter, who is 1 year old.

Featured image via Flickr Creative Commons

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