4 Tips to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
When a serious illness strikes a family, everyone’s life is thrown into turmoil. Whether the illness is chronic or acute, no one can really prepare you for the responsibility of caregiving and the emotions that go with it. A caregiver is someone who is actively engaged in providing care and needs to another such as a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend. Often a caregiver finds themselves in this role with a lack of training, support, or compensation.
Unfortunately, as we throw ourselves into overdrive, doing everything we can to deliver the best care to our loved one, we typically put our own self-care on the back burner, which ultimately leads to caregiver burnout. 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.
And since caregiving is often a long-term challenge, the stress it generates can be particularly damaging. You may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities. It can be particularly disheartening when there’s no hope that your family member will get better or if, despite your best efforts, their condition is gradually deteriorating.
Sometimes, the role of care giver comes on slowly, especially when we are thinking about aging parents. This can include taking them to the grocery store, attending doctor’s appointments, helping with housework, and meal preparation, just to name a few. Before you know it, you are taking more time off from work then anticipated. Your time and energy to devote to your own family (spouse and children) is significantly limited.
If you don’t get the physical and emotional support you need, the stress of caregiving can leave you vulnerable to a wide range of problems, including depression, anxiety, and burnout. And when you get to that point, both you and the person you’re caring for suffer. That’s why managing the stress levels in your life is just as important as making sure your family member gets to their doctor’s appointment or takes their medication on time. No matter how stressful your caregiving responsibilities or how bleak your situation seems, there are plenty of things you can do to ease your stress levels, regain your balance, and start to feel positive and hopeful again.
If you’re feeling worn out, here are some ways you can care for yourself while caring for your loved one…
Give Yourself Space
You’re no doubt overwhelmed and inundated with activities that surround your loved one’s care. It’s important that you take time to get away for some quiet reflection. Take a walk in nature or a long drive to clear your head and catch your breath.
As a busy caregiver, leisure time may seem like an impossible luxury. You may even feel guilty for wanting to take time for yourself. But you owe it to yourself—as well as to the person you’re caring for—to carve out time for yourself. Give yourself permission to rest and to do things that you enjoy on a daily basis. Make this part of your routine so that you have a little something to look forward to everyday. You will be a better caregiver for it.
There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. If you’re not regularly taking time-off to de-stress and recharge your batteries, you’ll end up getting less done in the long run. After a break, you should feel more energetic and focused, so you’ll quickly make up for your relaxation time.
If there were any time in your life you craved comfort foods, now would be it! But loading up on carbs and sugar is not what your body needs. Do your best to forego donuts and pasta and instead opt for fruits and vegetables.
Nourish your body with fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, such as fish, nuts, and olive oil. Unlike sugar and caffeine—which provide a quick pick-me-up and an even quicker crash—these foods will fuel you with steady energy.
Connect with Others
It’s easy to become isolated during this time. You’re tired and emotional, and besides the goings-on at various doctors’ appointments, you may feel you have little to offer in the way of sterling conversation.
Don’t let your friendships get lost in the shuffle of caregiving. These relationships will help sustain you and keep you positive. If it’s difficult to leave the house, invite friends over to visit with you over coffee, tea, or dinner. It is important to remember who you are as a person, not just a caregiver. Social interaction will help you to feel more supported and connected to others.
Many family caregivers feel it’s their entire responsibility to provide care for their loved one. But you don’t have to do everything by yourself. Reach out to other family members and friends for help. Look into getting a home health aid who can step in for you so you can have a couple hours off each week.
A caregiver support group is a great way to share your troubles and find people who are going through similar experiences each day. If you can’t leave the house, many Internet groups are also available.
In most support groups, you’ll talk about your problems and listen to others talk; you’ll not only get help, but you’ll also be able to help others. Most important, you’ll find out that you’re not alone. You’ll feel better knowing that other people are in the same situation, and their knowledge can be invaluable, especially if they’re caring for someone with the same illness as as your loved one.
You may also want to consider seeking the guidance of a family therapist who can help you navigate your emotions and offer tools to help you cope with your new day-to-day reality.
If you’d like to explore therapy options, please get in touch with me. I’d love to discuss how I might be able to help you and your family during this difficult time.