Caregivers: Prevent burnout by taking care of yourself

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Caregivers: Prevent burnout by taking care of yourself

Caring for a loved one, young or old, is a labor of love, but for sure labor. If the person you are caring for is elderly, as they become frailer and in need of more of your time and energy, you may find yourself giving up outside activities and vacations, saying no to friends, feeling distracted at work and getting stressed at home.  If you try to do everything, you risk neglecting your own health.

The position of being a caregiver is both rewarding but quite challenging.  The responsibility of caring for someone depending on you for their well-being can take a toll on even the most dedicated caregiver out there. 

During our lifetime, most of us will take on the role of caring for a loved one – maybe after someone’s illness or accident – your caregiving responsibility may be short-term, long-term or indefinite.  Caregiving can become an isolating, exhausting task but know that you are not alone. Currently, more than 65 million unpaid caregivers, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week fulfilling their duty.

The calling of being a caregiver can be an honor and a fulfilling role but in order for you to take care of someone dependent on you, remember that taking care of the caregiver – you – is key to caring for your loved one.  Providing quality care means understanding the personal issues you may face. 

Here are simple steps making your role as a caregiver an easier transition for both you and your loved one:

·      Understand the medical condition

Caring for someone with any kind of medical condition requires that you have a thorough understanding and knowledge of their disease or condition.  Know what to expect in how the disease will progress, treatment options, support groups available or any other available resources that can provide materials and moral support so you don’t feel so alone and more effective as a caregiver.

·      Have a schedule

Keeping a simple routine each day not only helps your loved one feel more secure but it gives you a sense of stability and control making daily activities easier.  When the person you are caring for knows what to expect each day, there is less chance for disagreements and a greater feeling of security and trust between each of you. 

·      Keep calm

When a loved one is depending on you for their well-being, they want and need someone who projects calmness giving assurance you can handle just about any situation that arises.  Calmness can be practiced by remembering not to take a loved one’s angry outbursts personally.  Behaviors such as this are often attributed to the illness rather than towards you. This helps put the situation in proper focus easing the strain on the relationship. 

·      Take breaks

Arranging to take breaks from your responsibilities is a must for being able to cope better with stress and absolutely necessary for your physical and mental health.  Take advantage or ask for help in the form of a relative or friend or hire a skilled professional temporarily to assist with bathing, grooming, medications or other needs.  Another option is using an adult care center for a day or so for the break you need. 

·      Ask for help when you need it

Many caregivers find it hard to ask for help.  They feel like they should do everything themselves or that no one will help even if they ask.  Maybe they cannot afford to pay someone to watch the person for an hour or two.  But it’s okay to ask for help from family or friends.  You don’t have to do everything yourself.  It can help if you ask people to help out in specific ways like making a meal, visiting the person or taking the person you care for out for a short time.  Most people will understand that you could use the help and most likely will help when asked.      

·      Have your own space

For caregivers who live with the person they are caring for, they need to create their own personal space you can call your own.  It could be a certain room or corner that you can take refuge when feeling overwhelmed.  It could be a comfortable chair near a window, a room with a beautiful view or a spot in a garden to meditate or reflect taking time to recharge your emotions and energy. 

·      Join a support group

A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations.  People in support groups understand what you may be going through.  A support groups can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships. 

Recognizing caregiver burnout

Caregiver face higher risks of depression, fatigue and physical illness.  Recognizing and getting help when the job as caregiver is more than you can handle, is vital to taking care of yourself.  Be alert for the following:

·      Feeling overwhelmed or like you’re running on empty

·      Feeling trapped – you’ve lost connection with family and friends

·      You lose your temper or patience easily

·      Frequent feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety or crying

·      Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

·      Appetite changes or severe tiredness

·      Apathy or a feeling your life doesn’t matter

·      Inability to sleep

·      Excessive use of alcohol or using drugs to cope

Any of the above situations requires you to seek help by reaching out to a therapist, your doctor or counselor for help.  Other resources to use for support or advice include the following:

·      National Institute on Aging – www.nia.nih.gov

·      National Caregiver Alliance – www.caregiver.org

·      Caregiver Action Network – www.caregiveraction.org

·      Lotsa Helping Hands – www.lotsahelpinghands.com