Responding to Caregiver Burnout

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Responding to Caregiver Burnout

Less than a year ago, a study found that “42 percent of family caregivers experience depression, mood swings or resentment as a result of their labors.” Most people that have provided prolonged care for a loved one, especially in the last two years, have found the work difficult, to put it mildly. Because family caregiving is often a labor of love and/or necessity, it usually equates to an unpaid part-time (or even full-time) job, in addition to whatever employment or other dependents that person already has. Covid has not made things any easier and has pushed many to the breaking point. Some have even had to make the hard choice between maintaining sources of income or devoting themselves full-time to caregiving.

So what can be done? Beyond lobbying for improved support systems on a legislative level, what can you as a caregiver do to avoid burning out completely? The best way is to know the signs of burnout so you can take proactive steps in advance. If you find yourself becoming exhausted, more irritable, socially withdrawn, anxious, lacking sleep, or even getting sick more often, consider the following:

  1. Self-care. I’m not talking about mental or emotional care, here (though those are, of course, equally important). I’m specifically referring to good, old-fashioned, physical maintenance. Set a sleep schedule to ensure a regular number of hours of rest. Drink plenty of water, at least 64 ounces a day. Choose foods that give you energy and make your body happy, not foods that make you feel lethargic and gross (though a treat here and there never goes amiss…). Go for jogs or set an exercise routine for a few times a week. This might include yoga, calisthenics, or other forms of fitness.
  2. Speak to a therapist or a friend if you’re experiencing difficulty. Sometimes it helps to get difficult matters off your chest. This may help to reframe your mindset in order to address the issues you’re dealing with in a safe and sympathetic environment. Aside from physical care, it’s important to tend to your mental and emotional health, too. You can’t provide care for your loved one(s) if you don’t care for yourself. One caretaker put it as such: “You’re learning the hard way the truth of the concept of putting on your oxygen mask first before you help anyone else.”
  3. When you can spare it, take time away from the person you’re responsible for, even for 15 minutes. This might mean taking a walk, a nap, or spending time in meditation. Giving yourself pockets of time can help to get you out of your head and grant you greater productivity through the day.
  4. Form a system of support between family members and family friends. If there are others that are capable of helping, enlist them. If they can be physically present and relieve you even for a little while, great. If they’re not nearby, a simple phone or video call can make all the difference to take the load off your shoulders, even for a moment.
  5. Seek financial aid where available. There are often multiple resources available to help so you don’t have to pay out of pocket. Investigate whether your loved one is eligible for veteran’s benefits, care insurance, or other services.
  6. Depending on the lucidity of the person you care for, sometimes communicating honestly can be immensely helpful. Explaining that you’re stressed without placing blame can be a way of clearing the air, especially if some of that stress has manifested in frustration or resentment toward your loved one.

With the cost of Covid, the emotional, mental and physical toll of family caregiving has become its own epidemic. Caregivers often go unseen and unappreciated because they rarely operate in a professional, public environment. This can make them feel isolated and alone. It’s important that we, as a society, remain vigilant and aware of those struggling to care for loved ones while trying to maintain their own lives. The more aware we are of the problems at hand, the easier it is for those people to access support.

Sources:

How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout and Manage Stress

The cost of caregiving: When financial and emotional stress compound | Reuters

Carolyn Hax: Overworked, burnt-out caregiver looks for ways to be kind again

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