5 Ways to Battle Caregiver Burnout
No one who provides care for an ailing or aging loved one would likely describe the experience as easy, but for many, caregiving is an enormously taxing endeavor.
As of 2020, some 53 million Americans provide unpaid family care, per AARP. And of those, 36% consider it a highly stressful job. It’s no wonder, then, that so many people find themselves approaching, experiencing or – as some might put it – way past the point of caregiver burnout.
The ways in which caregiver burnout manifests itself are legion, but the voluminous list includes:
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Physical and/or financial anxiety
- Withdrawal from personal relationships and social situations
- Loss of interest in activities previously considered enjoyable
- Neglect of other responsibilities
- Irritability, impatience and a tendency toward overreaction
- Guilt for engaging in non-caregiving activities
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Weight gain
- Changes in appetite
- Insomnia and other changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty relaxing
- Lowered immune response; a tendency to get every cold and flu that’s going around
- Excessive drinking, smoking or use of drugs (including prescription medications)
- Suicidal or self-harm ideation
- New or worsening health problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Headache, stomachache and similar pain
So what can you do about it?
Attend to Your Psychological Needs
Going from an understandably negative attitude to a positive one isn’t as simple as the flip of a switch, but there are plenty of small steps you can take to improve your outlook. One method is to look for anything you can celebrate: small victories, silver linings, minor milestones, the appreciation your loved one might express if they were well. Some people find it helpful to read up on the ailments their loved ones are suffering from so they feel they have a stronger grasp on the situation.
Be Comfortable with Your Own Emotions
Another key is the one we all know from the five stages of grief: acceptance. Understand your own personal limits, and set realistic goals. Develop coping tools and don’t let the act of caregiving be your entire existence. Above all, recognize the inevitability of negative feelings. It’s tempting to translate negative thoughts into guilt: “I’m a terrible person for feeling this way.” Don’t beat yourself up. Acknowledge that every caregiver experiences despair and frustration, and that you’re not alone in whatever you feel.
Attend to Your Physical Needs
Burnout pushes many caregivers to start neglecting their own needs, believing, often subconsciously, that those things should be secondary to their duties toward their loved one. The truth, though, is that a healthy caregiver is a more effective caregiver. Meeting your basic physical needs – exercising regularly, eating a healthful diet, getting enough sleep – is just as important for family caregivers as it is for anyone else.
There’s Nothing Wrong with Joy
Take the opportunity to prioritize your own enjoyment as well, rather than ratchet back on activities you once found fun. Get out of the house when you can, even if it’s just for a quick walk. Work periodic breaks into your daily agenda, and don’t skip them. Some sources recommend having a specific time of day – often the early morning – set aside for activities that you find relaxing, while others suggest setting personal health goals (and taking satisfaction in achieving them).
Don’t Let Your Own Health Suffer
Not to be forgotten on this point is not to forget your own medical care. Just as you’re looking after the health of another person, so, too, should someone be looking after your health. Keep up on your regular doctor visits, and let your doctor know that you’re acting as a caregiver for a loved one – your doctor can factor that into their assessments.
Maintain Personal Relationships
Social relationships are enormously important for caregivers, especially for those feeling the effects of burnout. You might feel as though discussing your struggles will place an undue burden on friends, family and other acquaintances, but keeping your emotions to yourself won’t do you any good. It may even be worthwhile to set up a recurring check-in with a trusted friend or family member so you can’t easily procrastinate this kind of interaction.
Learn to Say Yes
Beyond that, having personal relationships means you have people around you who can help, even if it’s only in limited ways. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and if it’s offered, say yes! Caregivers sometimes find it difficult to relinquish control of some aspects of their work, but it’s worth working to overcome your internal resistances. If you have a personal support network, it may even be worthwhile to come up with a list of duties you can delegate, or divide up responsibilities where possible.
Making Health Updates Less Stressful
For some, keeping friends and family updated on the condition of an ailing loved one can be a millstone all by itself. If that rings true for you, consider looking into resources that make the job easier, such as CaringBridge or MyLifeLine.
Establish Relationships with Other Caregivers
Just as you might confab with co-workers about the difficulties posed by a particular project, you may find relief in talking to other caregivers about your shared experiences. Look up caregiver support groups or workshops, whether in your geographic area or online, and make connections with people who are going through the same things you’re going through. It may also be worth your while to look into the resources offered by your local agency on aging.
Look into Home Health & Support Services
If you’ve overcome your hesitancy to accept help, but are still finding your responsibilities as caregiver difficult to bear – even if only from time to time – there are opportunities out there to seek support from professionals.
Health Services Right at Home
Many professional health services can be delivered right at home, especially for hospice patients. Social workers, home health aides, nurses and other health professionals can take some of the burden off of you by bringing their skills directly to your loved one – including care they might receive in a hospital setting, without ever having to leave home.
Another hugely valuable option for caregivers is respite care: a chance to have trained professionals look after your loved one for a set period of time so you can unwind and take a break from the stress of their health care and well-being.
Work with ViaQuest to Be the Best Caregiver You Can Be
At ViaQuest, we have a vast array of services available to help caregivers avoid caregiver fatigue while ensuring their loved ones are well looked after. Reach out to us today to learn about our caregiver support services, and make the caregiving experience as positive as possible for both you and your loved one.