Do you feel good when you wake up most mornings? Do you have an abundance of energy that propels you to face the day ahead? If you’re caregiving for your spouse, my guess is your answer is “No.” You’re more likely experiencing caregiver fatigue, waking up feeling exhausted most mornings.
How much energy you have at the start of your day will impact how your day goes. Your energy is a precious resource. It’s the “juice” that fuels you through the day. Everything you do each day requires a certain amount of energy. Everything!
So, what do you do when you’re experiencing caregiver fatigue symptoms and can’t seem to replenish your energy? Keep reading to find out.
Why Is Energy So Important for Caregiving?
We often don’t think about energy as a resource until it runs out. When that happens, we are so drained we can hardly function. We “hit a wall.” Some people may be able to push past those times of energy loss through sheer willpower, but it usually catches up with them.
Energy is a resource that must be replenished. Getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising are all things that can renew your energy. But have you ever stopped to think about what might be wasting your energy? Nobody wants to waste this precious resource, but you may do it without realizing it.
What Do Caregiver Fatigue Symptoms Look and Feel Like?
Caregiver fatigue, which can quickly lead to caregiver burnout, is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Here are some of the common caregiver fatigue symptoms you might be experiencing:
- Physical Fatigue: This is often one of the first signs of caregiver fatigue. You may feel constantly tired, even after a good night’s sleep, and have difficulty completing daily tasks.
- Emotional Exhaustion: As a caregiver, you may experience feelings of sadness, irritability, or apathy. You may also feel detached from your emotions or numb.
- Anxiety and Depression: Constant worry, feelings of dread, or persistent sadness can be signs of caregiver fatigue. These feelings may persist even when not actively providing care.
- Sleep Disturbances: Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling unrested are common for those experiencing caregiver fatigue.
- Withdrawal: As a fatigued caregiver, you may isolate yourself from friends and family, spending more time alone. You may also lose interest in activities you once enjoyed.
- Feelings of Helplessness or Hopelessness: You may feel like your situation is out of control and that you can do nothing to improve it. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness.
- Negative Emotions: Feelings of resentment, anger, or frustration towards your sick spouse–or guilt for having these feelings–can be symptoms of caregiver fatigue.
- Decreased Productivity: Lack of motivation at work or home may lead to reduced productivity and a lack of accomplishment.
- Health Problems: Increased susceptibility to illness, weight gain or loss, or worsening chronic health conditions can signal caregiver fatigue.
- Increased use of drugs and alcohol: Some caregivers may turn to substances as a coping mechanism, which can exacerbate health problems and contribute to further exhaustion.
If you’re experiencing one or more of these caregiver fatigue symptoms, it’s essential to find what’s draining your energy so much and make adjustments to replenish it before you burn out.
3 Energy-Draining Activities that Contribute to Caregiver Fatigue
There are three activities you may be doing without even thinking about it, and it is costing you precious energy. They are:
- Not feeling your emotions
- Staying stuck in indecision
- Trying to control someone or something outside of yourself
All of these will suck precious energy juices from you every day! Let’s talk about each one and what to do if you fall into this trap.
1. Not Feeling Your Emotions
Let me paint a picture for you:
You wake up in the morning after a restless night and immediately feel anxious. You and your partner are supposed to find out the results of the latest scan sometime this week, and you are dreading what it might be. The anxiety is humming in your chest, so you indulge in something sweet for breakfast. You just want to forget about everything for a few precious moments and enjoy the comfort of something tasty.
Your partner is also anxious, making them grumpy, so you snap at each other. You then feel guilty for being so childish because you know they are worried about the results too. Work is stressful, and you are exhausted by the end of the day.
You relax with a few more glasses of wine than you usually would, just to take off the edge. Still wound up from the day, you have another restless night, and the whole cycle starts over again.
In the scene above, the caregiver experienced anxiety, guilt, and stress but never took the time to feel these emotions. Instead, they reacted to the emotions by trying to comfort themselves with food and alcohol. Which, of course, didn’t help them acknowledge and process the emotions they were feeling.
Can you relate?
When you don’t take a moment to feel and process your emotions, they don’t go away. Instead, they get stuck in the body and contribute to caregiver fatigue. Trying to avoid the emotions altogether takes a tremendous amount of energy, and it will exhaust you.
This is a very common reaction when we have a lot of negative emotions because most of us are not taught how to acknowledge and process them. Instead, we try to avoid feeling them or stuff them down and try to ignore them. This never works and is exhausting.
Emotions must be acknowledged and felt as they arise when you are caregiving. This is a time of heightened emotions, and when you have so many coming at you throughout a day or week, you have to take care of them as they come. Otherwise, they will overwhelm you.
I’ve written a lot about how to process emotions, but the quick and dirty is to:
- Notice what you are feeling
- Name the emotion
- Acknowledge your experience
- Allow it by mentally noting how the emotion feels in your body and allowing it to be there
(NNAA for short.)
There are other tools to process emotions, one of which I love is called EFT Tapping. But just taking a 5-minute pause to go through this NNAA process will get you started. The more you do this, the less those emotions will drain you of your energy. Read Space To Feel Your Emotions to learn more.
2. Staying Stuck In Indecision
Another thing that may be draining your energy and contributing to caregiver fatigue is being stuck in indecision. When you are caregiving, you are faced with many decisions: what doctor to see, what type of treatment to pursue, what insurance issues to keep in mind, etc. There are constant decisions to be made and a lot of pressure to make the “right” choice.
Anytime you have a decision weighing on your mind, it will drain your energy. You will want to keep reviewing all the information in your head and doing more research. You will want to wait for more details so you can feel better about making a decision. You will put pressure on yourself to make the right decision. All of this is exhausting. It will drain you. The more decisions you put off, the more energy it takes.
One of the best skills you can develop is learning to make quick decisions and stick to them. To develop this skill, you first must learn that there is no “right” decision. There are just choices and consequences. “Quick” doesn’t have to mean no research, but it does mean limiting the amount of research you do. It means setting aside time to discuss it with your partner, then committing to a path forward.
I recommend you start practicing making quick decisions with smaller areas of your life, like what to order when getting takeout, an online purchase you are considering, or any of the little choices you make throughout the day. Practice making them quickly and decisively. As you start to develop this skill and get over your fear of making a wrong choice, you can then apply it to decision-making around caregiving and health. Check out No Wrong Decisions to dive deeper into this topic.
3. Trying to Control Something or Someone Outside of You
This is the sneakiest energy drainer of them all. It’s an easy thing for caregivers to fall into. If you are in a situation where your partner is no longer an equal and needs significant help and assistance–or even emotional support from you–it can be very easy to blur the line between support and wanting to control them or the situation. It may look like lecturing them about how they are eating or taking care of themself. It may look like wanting them to do things they don’t want to do. It may look like wanting some security in the future.
When your life feels out of control, it’s natural to want to assert control anywhere you can. Often you end up focusing that intent on the people and situations in your life, thinking if you can get your life and the people in it under control, you can relax. The problem is other people and situations outside of you are NOT within your control. So anytime you spend effort trying to make someone do something, even if it’s for their own good, and they don’t comply, you will just get more and more drained.
The solution to this energy drain is the easiest in theory but one of the hardest to do in practice. You have to pull back and focus on what you do have control over. That is yourself, how you think, feel, and show up each day. That is where your power is. It’s within you, not outside of you. And when you start taking action from where your power is, you will start getting your energy back and feel the caregiver fatigue symptoms subside.
Energy Is Precious. Let’s Protect Yours!
Your energy is precious. You need all of it right now to be your best. If you start feeling and acknowledging your emotions as they come up, limiting the time you spend making decisions, and focusing your efforts on yourself and how you show up every day, you will start to feel so much better and reclaim some of your precious energy!
Does it feel overwhelming thinking about making these changes to regain your energy? I offer 1:1 caregiver coaching for you when your spouse is sick, and we can discuss these topics and more to build resilience for your journey. Start today by scheduling a free call with me to chat more!