“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”- Ovid
It’s good advice, but not always easy to follow! Especially if you’re a family caregiver. Family caregivers deal with more stress than the average person. In fact, 36% of family caregivers reported their situation as “highly stressful” in a recent AARP survey. And prolonged stress can easily turn into burnout if you’re not careful.
Cleveland Clinic defines caregiver burnout as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It 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, physically or financially. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones. Caregivers who are ‘burned out’ may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression.”
The effects of burnout can go beyond just you. Being burned out can cause you to make mistakes that could put your loved one in danger. Or it can lead to unhealthy coping behaviors like alcohol abuse that affect other loved ones around you.
Clearly, burnout is an important issue to be aware of. In this article, we’ll outline 3 key strategies that can help you avoid it. Knowing that it could happen to you and taking the right steps to prevent it will help you better care for yourself and your loved one.
A big part of reducing the stress that can lead to burnout is being as prepared as possible for what’s coming and being able to make good decisions. To do that, you have to be proactive by educating yourself and acting early.
- Educate yourself–Often we feel stress and anxiety because we are dealing with the unknown. Doing your homework on your loved one’s condition and what kinds of care they might need takes extra time and effort, but it’s worth it. Look for resources and recommendations online, from friends, and from your local council on aging. Try to attend doctor’s appointments and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’re going to have to make many choices as a family caregiver and being armed with information can make a big difference to you and your loved one.
- Act sooner rather than later–Timing is more important than you think. It’s not unusual for family caregivers to wait too long before intervening in their parent’s situation. And many seniors can be reluctant or resistant to making those crucial decisions about aging and the end of life for themselves. That’s why it’s important to start early. If you lay the groundwork early on, it will probably go more smoothly.
Prioritize your own health
You may have heard the term “self-care,” being thrown around, and for many, that looks like taking a vacation or having a spa day. But for many family caregivers, getting a good night’s sleep is hard enough, let alone taking days away from their loved one for travel. Before you dismiss self-care as impossible, start thinking about self-care on a very basic level–taking care of your own health.
In that same AARP report, nearly one-quarter of family caregivers said that they feel their caregiving has made their own health worse and that it’s made it more difficult to stay healthy. When you’re caring for a loved one, those simple things you’re supposed to be doing to maintain your health can become difficult. Getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising can fall by the wayside. But ignoring those things is a big part of what causes burnout. Being tired and feeling sick, or possibly even creating your own health issues isn’t helping anyone.
There’s an old but still very relevant saying: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Take the time to treat yourself the way you treat your loved one–by making sure they are as healthy as possible. You’ll avoid burnout and may even live longer in the process!
Take the help
No one is an island, and as much as you would like to do it all, it’s just not realistic. Both you and your loved one are probably going to need some help at one point or another, both in practical ways and emotionally. Doing so can have a big impact on the amount of stress you feel and how quickly or easily you burn out.
- Getting help for your loved one–There are a few options when you’re looking for help with your loved one. If you have a big family or network, you may have enough volunteers to cover extra needs that you can’t. (Learn all about forming a care team in this recent article.)
But even if you don’t have a large pool of volunteers, you can still bring in qualified help. In-home caregivers can provide a valuable service and if you use an agency, you can have one in your loved one’s home within days. Having help can give you the break you need to take care of yourself while knowing your loved one is in good hands.
- Getting help for yourself–. It can be very isolating to be a family caregiver, even if you have some help from friends or a professional caregiver. Loneliness, guilt, and even resentment are common emotions, and connecting with others in your situation helps you realize that and work through it. Peer support is another way you can take care of yourself, which directly affects your ability to care for your loved one. And with the rise of social media and video platforms like Zoom, it’s easier than ever to find a support group. Some are even specific to the condition your loved one is suffering from.
Every family caregiving situation is unique, and there’s no one perfect way to do it. It’s common to worry and stress out about your loved one. Just be aware that stress and not taking care of yourself can turn into burnout. Remember to take time to check in on your wellbeing and use these three strategies to help you cope.
If forming a care team is an option you’d like to explore, we’d love to talk with you about in-home care. You can learn more about our services here, or reach out to book a complimentary discovery call.