Recently, a patient and her husband returned to the hospital for a routine a checkup. Running into them in the hall, I found it difficult to remember who the patient was and who the caregiver was. The woman was recovering from a complicated course with mesothelioma- her partner had been by her side and with her non-stop throughout the past few months. He was also dealing with his own health challenges. When the conversation turned to him he was quick to admit that he was frustrated, short tempered, snapping at everyone, irritable: just about every sign of burnout.
What does burnout look like in caregivers? What is burnout? According to the author of “The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI),” Christina Maslach, burnout is “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishments.” There are many symptoms of burnout such as, liability of emotions, sadness and helplessness intertwined with anger, as well as failure to take care of one’s self, not exercising, not allowing time to do the things you enjoy. The caregiver is so stressed that his or her immune system is compromised leaving them more susceptible to common illnesses.
Burnout is not unique to caregivers. The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has named emotional well-being a major problem among doctors and he has targeted it as one of the two areas that his office is focusing on this year. Once burnout is recognized, it is vital that you take measures to take care of yourself. Allow yourself time to reconnect with friends and family, do something you enjoy, take a break from your caregiving responsibilities.
Burnout is a serious issue. Don’t overlook the importance of taking care of yourself as you and your loved one deal with mesothelioma.