Caring for an older parent or a child with special medical needs can be a very rewarding experience that shows high levels of love and commitment. However, it’s important to recognize that caregivers often experience high levels of stress. This overwhelming feeling can stem from exhaustion, anxiety, and limited access to resources.
As a result, caregiver stress burnout is common. This is particularly true in Canada, where the number of caregivers providing for a loved one with dementia is on the rise. According to the Alzheimer Society, there are 25,000 new cases of dementia each year. In addition, research shows that it can be more taxing to provide care for those living with dementia than a relative with a physical disability.
The Effects of Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout occurs when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or attempt to do more than they are capable of. This can result in mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that can cause negative thoughts and behaviors. For many caregivers, this exhaustion can result in depression, fatigue, stress, anxiety and even guilt.
How do you know if you or a loved one is experiencing caregiver burnout? The symptoms are similar to those of stress and depression and may include:
• Loss of interest in activities that once brought enjoyment
• Changes in sleep patterns
• Worsened immune system/getting sick more often
• Social withdrawal from family and friends
• Irritability or explosions of anger
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) & Caregiver Stress Burnout
Research studies have found that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective intervention tool for reducing the emotional burdens and burnout that can come with the role of a caregiver. This form of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can significantly improve the symptoms of depression that caregivers might experience.
CBT involves training caregivers to alter negative thought patterns and behaviors while learning to cope with stressful situations. By changing the way that caregivers respond to a difficult situation, such as seeking out help or approaching depressive thoughts from a new perspective, caregivers can train themselves to view things in a more positive way.
Some effective strategies include:
• Journaling: Writing down emotions can be an effective way to identify negative patterns and provide both clients and psychotherapist with a tangible map of a client’s responses to stressors.
• Role-playing: Sometimes, it can be difficult to ask for help or admit to friends and family that you’re feeling overwhelmed. A therapist will work with clients to “practice” navigating these social situations to help caregivers feel more empowered.
• Relaxation: Learning how to cope with the body’s physical and emotional response to stress is important. Clients will learn various relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and mindful meditation, that will help them wind down when faced with a stressful situation.
Top 10 Best Therapists
As one of Canada’s top 10 best psychotherapists, Melissa Cutler has spent the past 20 years gaining clinical and research experience across hospital, community, and public sector settings, including as a social worker. With advanced training in cognitive behavioural therapy, trauma counselling and chronic pain management, she helps caregivers manage their stress levels and enables them to provide better care for loved ones. Book online for a psychotherapy appointment at her office on Yonge and Lawrence near the subway.