Work has been extra tough lately. Staffing ratios are off the charts, and you’ve picked up at least an extra shift every week for the past month. You’re feeling drained, helpless, and even a little hopeless. You caught yourself being short-tempered with a coworker and feeling cynical about nurse aide work altogether. These feelings caught you off guard because becoming a CNA has been your dream for years. So, what gives?
It sounds like you’re dealing with a classic case of caregiver burnout. It’s common in CNAs, home health aides, hospice aides, and other direct care worker roles. And while you’ve probably learned about it, you may not have recognized the symptoms at first, and that’s okay. Caregiver burnout is a unique condition that happens to people who spend a lot of time caring for others, and it can look different from one person to another.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. It can happen during prolonged periods of high stress, such as working short-staffed, picking up extra nurse aide shifts, or carrying higher than normal workloads. All of the additional stress coupled with little time and energy for yourself can create the perfect situation to experience burnout symptoms. In fact, one study reports that 26-50% of all CNAs have experienced symptoms of caregiver burnout.
What are the Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?
One of the first signs of burnout many CNAs report is feeling overwhelmed. You may also notice a lack of motivation on the job and question whether your work is meaningful. This sudden shift from caring and concerned to disengaged and unmotivated is a red flag you must learn to recognize.
Here is a list of other common burnout symptoms:
- You’re exhausted all the time. This form of exhaustion hits the trifecta by affecting you emotionally, physically, and mentally. It’s not a type of exhaustion that a few hours of rest can fix. You might even have physical symptoms like stomaches, sleeping changes, poor appetite or headaches.
- You feel overwhelmed and start to withdraw. Feeling overwhelmed might cause you to disconnect from coworkers, friends, and family even when you know that being around others is best.
- You have a short fuse. Situations where you would typically “roll with the punches” may cause you to feel irritable and frustrated. You might find yourself snapping at coworkers and residents and later regretting it. You may also find that your frustration levels are higher than usual at home too.
- You dream of quitting, not going to work, or even running away. Lots of people job joke about not wanting to go to work. However, fantasizing or even hoping something mildly bad happens so you can legitimately call off work is concerning and a sure sign of burnout.
- You’re sick all the time. Too much stress can wear on your immune system and make you more likely to get things like a cold, the flu, or other viruses. You may also start to have symptoms of depression and anxiety.
How Can You Stop Caregiver Burnout?
Once you recognize that you’re experiencing caregiver burnout, you can start creating a plan to control the symptoms and get back into an excellent work-life balance. You can use any (or all) of the strategies below to get back on track.
It’s hard to say no when the boss asks you to stay over. You might even feel like you’re carrying the burden of all patient care on your shoulders. And, walking out at the end of the shift knowing the next shift is even shorter can be downright hard. However, you must remember that you can’t take care of others until you’ve cared for yourself first.
If you’re routinely working over 40 hours a week, talk to your supervisor about always getting at least two days off in a row to rest and reenergize. If you’re finding that working over 40 hours is just too much, let your supervisor know that you will no longer be picking up extra shifts and ask them not to ask you for a few weeks. This creates a healthy boundary, so you don’t have to fight the urge to agree to stay when you know you shouldn’t.
Prioritize Your Workload
Managing your stress levels at work is critical to controlling and stopping caregiver burnout. For example, when you’re short-staffed, prioritize your workload and let the nurse know what tasks won’t be completed. This strategy takes the stress off your shoulders.
Another great way to prioritize your workload is to work with a nurse aide partner. First, talk to the other CNAs on your shift and pair up with one of them for all difficult tasks. Then, plan a time in your schedule to do all of these tasks together. This way you know you’re not alone with transfers, lifts, or dealing with combative residents, and you won’t have to look for someone when you need an extra hand.
Deal with Problems Head-On
Stressful work environments can create tense situations between you and coworkers. Don’t let stress get the best of you. Handle conflicts head-on and quickly.
Chat with the nurse or supervisor about the situation. Ask them to sit with you when you speak to your co-worker. Be calm and use I-statements when you talk to them. For example, instead of saying, “You make me mad when you don’t do your fair share of the work,” say, “I feel frustrated when my workload is bigger than yours.” I-statements take the emphasis off of them and onto you and how you’re feeling.
Take a Few Days Off
Managing stress is extremely challenging when you can’t get away from it. So plan a few days off. Of course, you might have to wait for a week or two due to staffing constraints, but even knowing you have time off in the future can help you relax and feel less stressed.
Plan something fun and relaxing for your time off. Maybe go on a short trip or plan a full-fledged girl’s day out with friends or family. But, of course, you can also do nothing! Sometimes kicking back with good food and a rom-com is good for the soul!
Ask for Help
Dealing with caregiver burnout can be too much to handle on your own. You may need to talk to your supervisor, who understands what you’re going through, a trusted friend or family member, or even a counselor who can help you prioritize yourself and get your stress under control.
Spending time on yourself and your needs at work can be tricky. But, creating space for yourself is critical when you know stress levels are high. A few simple ways to create space during your breaks include:
- Practice breathing techniques
- Meditate for 10 minutes
- Take a short walk
- Listen to relaxing music