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What Is Post Caregiver Syndrome?

May 14, 2024

Mental Health Awareness Month is an excellent time to focus on the challenges faced by family caregivers and Personal Care Assistants (PCAs). Caregiving can be a lonely and demanding job, and it’s no secret that caregiver burnout is a common concern. 

At Best Care, we’ve heard caregivers voice their exhaustion with concerns like, "I am so tired of being a caregiver" and feeling as if "being a caregiver is killing me." We understand where you’re coming from—and you’re not alone!

These feelings underscore the deep levels of fatigue and stress that can build up after extended periods of caregiving. The emotional aftermath of an intense caregiving period leaves one’s emotional reservoirs depleted. Today, we’re going to address another way to refer to caregiver burnout, calling it Post Caregiver Syndrome.

What Is Post Caregiver Syndrome?

This article describes the condition as follows:

“Post-caregiver syndrome is defined as a state of burnout, and the list of symptoms—including feeling overwhelmed, constantly worried, often fatigued, fluctuations in weight, and becoming easily irritated or angry—often are warning bells for future despair.”

Post-caregiver syndrome usually shows up after the caregiving role ends, such as when the loved one passes away, leaving individuals grappling with a mix of complex emotions. There is grief but also a measure of relief, especially if the person had been suffering. This relief can make the caregiver feel guilty, which only exacerbates the emotions. 

Caregiver Fatigue Timeline

All caregivers cycle through feelings of happiness and stress, and it’s important to know when you can handle the feelings on your own and when you should seek outside help. Keep in mind that at one point or another, all of us need support, and there’s no shame in asking for it.

Stage 1: Thriving

This is a feeling of flow and confidence. You are able to remain calm and steady without major mood fluctuations, and you have an effective communication style with those around you. Your sleep and appetite patterns are normal and you feel good about your ability to focus at work. 

Stage 2: Surviving

You start to experience some mental and physical signs of fatigue or find yourself more easily overwhelmed or irritated. Perhaps, your eating and sleeping patterns may become more unhealthy. You feel nervous, and sad, and may experience tension headaches or muscle aches.

Stage 3: Struggling

This is when you should be seeking help, as you feel exhausted and your sleep is awful. Also, you might begin self-medicating with food, substances, or other numbing activities. You experience feelings of fear, panic, anger, anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness. You may begin to pull away from coworkers, friends, and family. 

Stage 4: In Crisis

A person in crisis needs to seek help immediately. You have disabling distress, panic attacks, and nightmares, and may be experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm. A person in crisis withdraws from relationships and may feel totally numb or out of control. If you are in crisis, please call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Notice that this cycle often starts with the subtle onset of tiredness and a feeling of being slightly overwhelmed, which can then escalate into a severe emotional and physical drain. As caregivers push these feelings aside, focusing instead on the needs of others, their endurance is often mistaken for an inexhaustible supply of energy. However, we never want to see caregivers hit a breaking out, which is why it’s important to seek help early. 

How to Find Support as a Caregiver

It's essential for caregivers to acknowledge their feelings without guilt. Establishing a support network through therapy, support groups, and community resources can be very beneficial for those who feel isolated and alone. It’s also important to set boundaries around your time and find outside activities that bring you joy. 

Remember, you can’t take care of a loved one if you are not feeling your best. Caregiver mental health is a huge factor in providing the best home care possible. For your own good and the good of those around you, it’s important to take care of yourself, first. At Best Care, we work to provide services, resources, and programs to support family caregivers across the state of Minnesota. Reach out to us today if you need support.

Exhausted caregiver staring out window.
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