<<The Health Wellness Programme (ASCAT) team from Changi General Hospital has published a book on burnout prevention.>>

Being a caregiver can be rewarding, but also challenging and frustrating.

No matter how resilient you are, or how much you love the person you are caring for, round-the-clock caregiving can be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. Financial woes can compound the stress.

Without enough support, this state of chronic stress can lead to burnout. The term “burnout” was first coined by American psychologist Dr Herbert J. Freudenberger in 1974, when he saw the phenomenon in volunteers working in free community clinics.

It is now recognised as a condition that can affect anyone, from caregivers and healthcare professionals to corporate workers.

In severe cases, people suffering from burnout can no longer function effectively in their personal and professional lives. Prolonged stress also increases the risk of developing mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Burnout can also wreak havoc on your physical health, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and cutaneous (skin) diseases, as well as allergies and conditions affecting the immune system.

But burnout does not happen out of the blue. The earlier the telltale signs are recognised, the better equipped you will be to handle and manage your stress levels to avoid burnout.

Signs of a burnout

If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, take a step back and assess the amount of stress you are facing. Seek professional help immediately if you have violent thoughts, or have been violent to yourself or others.

Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion:

• Chronic fatigue

• Insomnia

• Forgetfulness; lack of focus and concentration

• Chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness and/or headaches

• Increased frequency of illness

• Loss of appetite

• Anxiety

• Depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts

• Anger

Cynicism and detachment:

• Lack of interest in activities and things you used to enjoy

• Pessimistic thoughts and feelings

• Social isolation

• Feeling of being disconnected

Ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment:

• Feelings of apathy and hopelessness

• Lack of productivity and poor performance, even when you put in long hours

Self-care practices

Caring for your own physical and psychological well-being while caring for others is important. Healthy self-care practices not only improve your overall well-being, but also help build resilience. Here are some tips:

• Look after your physical health. Have healthy and regular meals, enough sleep, regular exercise and checkups, and say ‘no’ to unhealthy habits, such as binge drinking.

• Take time out for activities that you enjoy, such as gardening, baking, or meeting friends. You can also join or build a caregiving support team, sign up for respite care programmes, or enrol the person you are caring for in day care programmes.

• Accept and celebrate the person you are. Loving yourself does not mean you are being narcissistic, arrogant, or conceited.

• Tune in to your needs and wants by paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and psychological health.

Strategies to prevent burnout
  • Focus on the good

Train your mind to focus on good things. Do a quick reflection before bedtime every night by jotting down three things that went well. It can be simple moments like receiving a warm smile from a stranger.

  • Savour positive experiences

Share good news, feelings, and moments with others. Practise mindfulness by using your five senses to experience day-to-day happenings.

  • Express gratitude

Be more aware of good things that happen, and take time to express thanks to others. If you cannot do this verbally, write a letter.

  • Be kind to yourself

Rather than criticise or beat yourself up, treat yourself with kindness. Forgive your mistakes, recognise your challenges, be patient during moments of pain, and do deep breathing exercises.