The importance of self-awareness in fighting carer burnout

The importance of self-awareness in fighting carer burnout

By Joanna Kilgour


Self care.  As caregivers this concept can sometimes seem quite foreign.  The carer’s job is to provide care and support for others, to meet others’ needs, often at the expense of their own.

Carer burnout is a very real condition.  With many carers spending increasingly long hours supporting those reliant on them with limited resources and support for themselves it is also a common occurrence.  It is a state of total physical, emotional and mental exhaustion and occurs when the carer is subjected to consistent high levels of stress over an extended period of time.

It can be difficult for the carer to recognise signs and symptoms of burnout in themselves.  It is often hard to distinguish between what is a ‘normal’ level of stress to experience as part of the role that they are performing and what is excessive.  It is common for the carer to forget about their own needs when they are dedicating so much of themselves to caring for others, leading to this state of burnout.

A high level of self-awareness is necessary to combat this slip into carer burnout.  Self-awareness is the ability to understand your own thoughts, feelings and behaviours and being able to identify why you are experiencing these.  In order to be able to recognise these signs that the carer isn’t coping as well with the stresses placed upon them they need to have a good understanding of their own personal limits and emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. 

Each carer will have their own levels of stress that they are comfortable tolerating, and it can be difficult to recognise when these levels are being surpassed.  Often this realisation  occurs when it is too late and the carer has reached a state of burnout.  Some carers may even become sick themselves.

The symptoms of carer burnout are similar to those of stress and depression.  The carer may find themselves feeling sad and down, losing interest in activities they usually enjoy, having changes in eating or sleeping patterns, withdrawing from their social connections, being more irritable or having feelings of wanting to harm themselves.  Being self-aware can help the carer to recognise when these symptoms are occurring and take practicable steps to combat them.  It allows the carer to place boundaries when their limits are being exceeded. Being aware of ones own limitations means that self-care is more attainable.  Without this level of self-awareness burnout is likely to occur.

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