Every career comes with its challenges and stressors. Lawyers, for example, face long hours, firefighters deal with the threat of injury or death, and teachers manage the constant struggle between heightened expectations and decreased funding.
But while the challenges of these careers are frequently acknowledged by the public and mitigated with defined stress management programs, funeral professionals aren’t always afforded the same compassion and understanding. Though it seems obvious that caring for families during their darkest moments could become stressful over time, many people — both inside and outside the industry — see directors as being either immune to or detached from the suffering of their customers.
In fact, funeral professionals face many of the same challenges as nurses, hospice employees, and other healthcare workers. This stress, known as “caregiver burnout,” isn’t just a shared experience — it’s an acknowledged medical condition that WebMD defines as follows:
“Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able — either physically or financially. Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression.”
Sound familiar? If this description hits too close to home for you, read on for more information on the symptoms of caregiver burnout, as well as how you can manage them effectively in order to enjoy a long and rewarding career in the funeral profession.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout
According to the American Heart Association, any of the following could be warning signs of caregiver burnout:
- Excessive use of alcohol, medications or sleeping pills
- Appetite changes — either eating too much or too little
- Depression, hopelessness, feelings of alienation, lack of energy to do new things
- Losing control physically or emotionally
- Neglect or rough treatment of the person for whom you are caring
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating, missing appointments
Of course, you’ll want to consider these symptoms in the context of your overall well-being. Eating too much at a family barbeque probably isn’t cause for concern, but habitually over-eating as a way to cope with negative feelings is. If it seems like you might be suffering from caregiver burnout, take the following steps before this condition begins to affect your productivity and mental health:
Taking Care of Yourself
If you do find yourself facing worrisome symptoms, don’t wait, take action immediately with the following steps:
Check in with yourself
Get in the habit of checking in with yourself at least once a day. All it takes is a few seconds to evaluate your current stress level and to make a note of any factors that might be contributing to it. Make a note of your responses in a notebook or journal so that you can identify overall trends over time, as well as the specific experiences that cause you the most stress. Even if you aren’t able to remedy every issue you encounter right away, identifying them with a daily check-in can help you put a longer-term coping strategy into place.
Find an outlet
All work and no play makes funeral directors very dull boys and girls. You may not have a choice about the hours you work, but you can control how you spend the hours you have away from the funeral home. Any of the following outlets may help you to manage stress more effectively, depending on your unique personality:
- Taking up a team sport or a physical hobby that lets you work out your frustrations (including kickboxing, martial arts or boxing)
- Learning and regularly practicing meditation or yoga
- Planting and managing a garden
- Getting involved in a charity or volunteering for an organization you believe in
- Making time for quiet activities like reading, sewing or quilting
- Meeting up with friends for dinner or drinks
- Treating yourself to a massage, manicure or other spa experience
Ask for help
Finally, keep in mind that all the coping strategies in the world won’t make a difference if you’ve truly bitten off more than you can chew. If you’re a managing owner of a funeral home, you may simply be wearing more hats than are sustainable in the long term. If this is the case, delegating the tasks or responsibilities that don’t require your direct involvement with others may ultimately be the only way to prevent caregiver burnout.
But even if you aren’t a senior-level staff member, it’s incredibly common for funeral homes to try to “do more with less.” If you find yourself being tasked with more responsibilities than you can reasonably handle, you’ll need to either make your limitations known to your manager or look for an employer that will better help you maintain your work-life balance. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t work hard, but nobody’s Superman — there’s a big difference between slacking off and putting the necessary safeguards in place to maintain your health and sanity.
These might sound like drastic steps, but caregiver burnout can be career-ending. If you’re serious about staying in the funeral profession, it’s vital that you put the necessary coping mechanisms into place and seek out an environment that’s open to helping you maintain a reasonable workload. Your long-term health and well-being will thank you!
Download our free Self-Care For Funeral Directors eBook!