How To Prevent Caregiver Burnout & Stress — 7 Useful Tips
No matter how hard we try, we will all be profoundly affected by illness. We will inevitably face disease of some sort, either directly or indirectly. For some of us, how we are touched by disease comes from being a caregiver.
A caregiver refers to anyone who cares for someone else. Caregivers give different care types to relieve burden and support individuals in either a long or short-term setting. The longer a person provides for someone else, the more likely they will be affected, often negatively — both physically and mentally. Ramifications of caregiving for a family member, friend, or partner can be long-term, as well.
While there are, of course, countless rewards to providing care to someone you love, it can also come with many challenges and stresses. The more you are aware of these and attentive to your own well-being, the better equipped you will be to care for your loved one.
To take care of someone, it is essential — for both of you — that you take care of yourself and live a well-balanced life, as well.
What are the signs of caregiver burnout?
Before we can think about managing caregiver burnout, it helps to understand what it is and why we feel it. In North America alone, more than 40 million adults experience caregiver burnout, which is a condition described as someone who is feeling overwhelmed physically,emotionally, and mentally as a direct result of the stress and strain of caring for a loved one. You may be experiencing caregiver burnout if you are:
- In physical pain
- Showing a lack of interest
- Avoiding other friends and family
- Feeling hopeless
- Unable to sleep
It was an easy decision for Ruth Dahl to make to become the primary caregiver for her sister-in-law, LeAnn, when she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Dahl was retired and has a medical background, making her the most available and competent person for the job. LeAnne had also worked as an interior designer and helped Dahl spruce up her own home, so Dahl was excited to pay it forward.
And while Dahl knew she was her best option to be LeAnn's caregiver for many reasons, deciding to do so changed her life drastically.
"I would describe caregiver burnout as a feeling of being overwhelmed, not meeting your own needs, and starting to feel resentment but also guilt," Dahl said. "When I took care of LeAnn, I missed my hair appointment, cancelled dental and doctor appointments, and my own mammogram. She was the most comfortable with me, but I had to realize that I had to take care of myself too."
How can you avoid caregiver burnout?
It's hard to identify the ingredients for health and happiness when you are so close to a disease as a caregiver, especially when caring for a loved one. It's essential to take a step back and do a body scan of your own well-being. One of the deepest sources of pain comes from the fact that you delay these things for yourself as a caregiver.
Before you are a caregiver, you are a person, and one of our errors is that we don't set the stage for ourselves to live full lives while doing so. You do life half-ass because someone needs you — butyou also needyou.
Value your life and experiences, and in doing so, you'll be able to better provide for your loved one.
Keep reading to discover seven valuable tips to avoid and overcome caregiver burnout and cope with the feelings that come up when doing so.
1. Make time for yourself.
It's hard to know when to take a step back from caring for someone, but it's essential to trust your intuition and do one of the hardest things to do as a caretaker — make time for yourself.
It can be equally difficult and heartbreaking to toggle between the two mindsets of caring for oneself and a loved one, especially when that person is sick. But to help them, you must take care of your own well-being.
- Mindful refocusing. If you are only focusing on the person you're caring for, it's easy to not care for yourself. Refocus on the parts of your life that bring you pleasure, even when you don't feel like it.
- What's on your self-care menu? To make thoughtful time for yourself, it's essential to know what's on your self-care menu. Sit with yourself, brainstorm the stuff that truly puts you at ease, bring you pleasure...and then do them!
- Put yourself first. A little self-care can go a long way, so pour yourself that glass of wine, read your favorite book (again) under your preferred tree, or re-watch Grey's Anatomy (for the sixth time)...do things that make you happy and often.
Dahl found that she had little time for herself between taking her sister to appointments and blood transfusions, helping her get dressed and bathe at home, and eventually, she needed a wheelchair. In addition, LeAnn also didn't like to be alone, so Dahl discovered that she had little time for herself with people filtering in and out of their home.
"I eventually had to have an honest conversation with her about letting other people help," Dahl said.
When she did enlist people to help with her sister, Dahl would also go out for a massage, a manicure and pedicure, go to a friend's house, read, or nap. All of these helped her avoid caregiver burnout.
2. Unpack your emotional baggage.
One of the first steps to unpack your emotional baggage is to acknowledge it.
- Understand your triggers. As a caregiver, you're likely being triggered a lot, leading to negative thinking. Listen to your body and mind, take a step back and notice when you're having a strong negative emotional response to something.
- Pinpoint what is making you upset. Put yourself back into that moment and make a note of what made you upset. What emotions were you experiencing, and what patterns do you recognize leading up to it?
3. Live in the present.
It's impossible to predict the future or to change the past. As Oprah put it so eloquently in her book, What I Know For Sure, "Balance lives in the present. When you feel the earth moving, bring yourself back to the now."
Try to live in the present as much as possible, even when being a caregiver is astonishingly tough.
- Connect with others. Being around other friends and family can help you stay present.
- Don't focus too much on the past or future. It can be difficult to not think about the future when working as a caregiver — there are so many "what if's." Take a deep breath — you're here now...be there.
4. Know your limits and be realistic.
Recognize when you've lost all bandwidth for yourself. You likely have a family and a career that needs your attention, as well, so know your limits and set realistic boundaries. In addition to emotional limits, there are likely some physical efforts involved in caring for a loved one. Be mindful of those and when your body has had enough.
- Learn to delegate. Elevate the impact you have on other people's lives by entrusting as necessary. You don't need to do it all, nor can you.
- Ask for help. If you ask for help as a caregiver, people will most likely give it to you.
"It was better for both of us to be able to rely on others," Dahl said.
5. Take care of yourself.
You can't always be a therapeutic presence for others. Sometimes, you need to take care of yourself before you can begin to take care of others.
- Get a good night's rest. You need anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Getting a good's night rest is vital for your health and well-being, and it will help you take care of your physical and mental health and improve your quality of life. Sometimes caregiving doesn't allow you to sleep as your loved one may need aid throughout the night, so be sure to take short naps throughout the day as needed.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet. You need nutrients to perform to the best of your ability. Do so by eating a healthy and balanced diet consisting of lots of fruits and vegetables. If you don't have time to prepare a meal, keep easy and healthy items in the kitchen like canned black beans or fresh fruit to have something healthy to snack on.
- Exercise. Working out can make you feel lighter, increase energy levels, and can help you to be able to relax, unwind, and even sleep better. Try to slate in a short walk or some stretching each day. An excellent way to help you do this is to keep tennis shoes or even a yoga mat in your car and get in a short workout while your loved one rests.
6. Get support.
If you're reading this, odds are you're feeling anxious and have caregiver stress — you're not alone. Don't be afraid to ask for help. No one expects you to do this on your own. Recruit the assistance of friends, family members, and caregiver support groups.
- Join a caregiver support group. It can be challenging to seek help alone, so enlist a family member or friend to join you. Some recommended Facebook support groups for caregivers include Caregivers Connect, Caregivers Assist Support Group, and The Caregiver Space.
- Ask for emotional and physical support. When you're doing all of the helping, it can be hard to do so yourself. Ask for emotional and physical support as you need it from friends, family, or a professional.
- Give gratitude. Thank the people in your support group who have helped you be the best caregiver you can be. People who express gratitude are more satisfied than those who don't.
- Look around and notice — help is everywhere. You don't have to be a caregiver alone.
"I had to ask other people to stay with her and take some of the responsibility from me," Dahl said.
7. Allow yourself to grieve.
Even though you may not be suffering from a disease, being a caregiver can undoubtedly bring up intense feelings of sadness and loneliness, and that's okay. While it is sometimes helpful to fill your empty cup by caregiving, you need to combat that feeling of loneliness elsewhere.
Figure out if it's time to sit with those feelings of sadness or if you'd benefit from talking through those feelings with a professional. Figure out which emotions will be detrimental and which ones will positively affect you in the short and long term.
Hopefully, after reading this, you realize you are far more capable of handling caregiver burnout than you think. If you are experiencing burnout and are looking for even more resources to help cope and overcome these feelings, check out the following resources below.
- Thank You For Caregiving: Tips For New Cancer Caregiverby Josh Fernandez for Living Beyond Breast Cancer
- Caregiver Resource Guideby the American Cancer Society
- Support for Caregivers of Cancer Patients by Cancer.gov
- Information And Tips For Caregivers Of Cancer Patients by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America
- Comprehensive Guide for Caregiversby Livestrong
- Tips For Being a Successful Caregiverby Cancer.net