Preventing Caregiver Burnout
Tips and Support for Family Caregivers
Terri Murphy, CSA
President – Hope Senior Home Care
The demands of Caregiving for a loved one can be overwhelming, especially if you feel that you have little control over the situation or that you are in over your head. If you let the stress of caregiving progress to burnout, it can damage both your physical and mental health. So, if you are caring for a family member, it is essential that you get the support that you need. The good news is that you are not alone. Help for caregivers is available.
Providing care for a family member in need is a centuries-old act of kindness, love and loyalty. And as life expectancies increase and medical treatments advance, more and more of us will participate in the caregiving process, either as a caregiver, the recipient of care, or possibly both.
Unfortunately, caregiving can take a heavy toll if you don’t get adequate support. Caregiving involves many stressors: changes in the family dynamic, household disruption, financial pressure, and the sheer amount of work involved. The rewards of caregiver – if they come at all – are intangible and far off, and often there is no hope for a happy outcome. As the stress piles up, frustration and despair can take hold and burnout becomes a very real danger.
However, it is possible to prevent caregiver burnout by following a few essential guidelines:
• Learn as much as you can about your family member’s illness and about how to be a caregiver. The more you know, the more effective you’ll be, and the better you’ll feel about your efforts.
• Know your limits. Be realistic about how much of your time and yourself you can give. Set clear limits, and communicate those limits to doctors, family members, and other people involved.
• Accept your feelings. Caregiving can trigger a host of difficult emotions, including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief. Allow yourself to feel what you feel, just be careful to not compromise the well-being of the care recipient.
• Confide in others. Talk to people about what you feel; don’t keep your emotions bottled up. Caregiver support groups are invaluable, but trusted friends and family members can help too. You may also benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor.
Tips for Family Caregivers
• Caregiving is a job and respite is your earned right. Reward yourself with respite breaks often.
• Watch out for signs of depression, and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it.
• When people offer to help, accept the offer and suggest specific things that they can do.
• Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition and how to communicate effectively with doctors.
• There’s a difference between caring and doing. Be open to technologies and ideas that promote your loved one’s independence.
• Trust your instincts. Most of the time they’ll lead you in the right direction.
• Caregivers often do a lot of lifting, pushing, and pulling. Be good to your back.
• Grieve for your losses, and then allow yourself to dream new dreams.
• Seek support from other caregivers. There is great strength in knowing that you are not alone.
Once you burn out, caregiving is no longer a healthy option for either you or the person you’re caring for. So it’s important to watch for the warning signs of caregiver burnout and take action right away when you recognize the problem.
Common warning signs of caregiver burnout:
• You have much less energy than you used to.
• It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around.
• You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break.
• You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore.
• Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction.
• You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available.
• You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for.
• You feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless.
The first strategy for preventing caregiver burnout is: Don’t try to do it all alone. Taking on all the responsibilities of caregiving without regular breaks or assistance is a surefire recipe for burnout. Ask for help when you need it. Enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal over, or stay with your loved one so that you can have a well-deserved break. You can also turn to your community for programs such as respite care, home-delivered meals, and transportation services.
When you are a caregiver, finding time to nurture yourself might seem impossible, but you owe it to yourself to find the time. Without it, you may not have the mental or physical strength to deal with all the stress you experience as a caregiver. Give yourself permission to rest and to do things that you enjoy.
You will be a better caregiver for it!