10 Quick Tips for Combating Caregiver Burnout

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Caregiver burnout is more common than you might think. As the industry evolves and as people live for longer, people can become more burnt out as a result. Caregiver burnout can be defined as the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that occurs from taking care of someone. However, everyone may respond differently to the caregiving load that they have.

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Just because you may not have as many caregiving duties as someone else you know, that doesn’t mean that you won’t experience burnout. People have different circumstances with their families, work responsibilities, and tolerance levels. In other words, burnout can happen to anyone.

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

As a caregiver, you know all too well how the stress and strain can start to mount. Often, this occurs without you even realizing how serious it has become. After all, this is the job of taking care of someone you care for and about.

While some of these symptoms may sound unfamiliar, you may recognize some of these in yourself.

  • Irritability or anger
  • Poor sleep or chronic insomnia
  • Changes in appetite or weight loss
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Loss of pleasure in formerly enjoyed activities
  • Exhaustion
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Becoming sick more often
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The Reasons for Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is one of those slippery slopes where things are manageable to start but then get to a point of profound exhaustion. It might feel originally just like one long day, until those days increase, often back-to-back at an unyielding pace. Again as mentioned above, some of these reasons may seem unfamiliar but they can be something you have dealt with or have heard others experience as well.

  • Taking on too much responsibility. This means not asking for or knowing where to look for help. You may know best how to care for your loved one, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for support.
  • Lack of training. Caregivers are often expected to perform more and more complex medical tasks. They often have little or no training.
  • Demands of the job. Caregiver duties become too much or very difficult to perform. This may include having to lift or transfer someone without anyone else to help. Or, the person you are taking care of requires care throughout the day and the demands are too much for you to handle.
  • Other demands. Family caregivers have other responsibilities too. This includes other children at home, spouses, and work.
  • Lack of privacy and autonomy. The full-time job of caregiving can leave someone feeling like they have no life of their own. There is no time or space at the end of the day for you. Between caregiving, and managing other aspects of your life, the day ends without a moment when you can be alone. 

Caregiver burnout can be managed with a focused and committed effort to take care of yourself. Here are our tips on how to stay healthy and in control. The earlier you can assess and respond to caregiver burnout, the better, but regardless of where you are, it is never too late to feel better.

1. Take Care of Your Health

It’s important to engage in self-care in order to be a better caregiver. Consider eating a well-balanced diet and staying hydrated. Here are a few other tips as well:

  • Use good sleep hygiene techniques such as eliminating electronics in the bedroom. Make sure the room is dark and noise-free.
  • If you feel sick, see your healthcare provider.
  • Keep up on preventative healthcare such as your flu shot, mammogram, colonoscopy, and any other recommended testing.
  • Watch your intake of alcohol and/or prescription drugs.

2. Ask for Help

There is usually one family caregiver that takes on most of the responsibility. Consider asking another family member to assume a few caregiving duties to give you a break. Think about hiring in-home help through a home care agency. Even a couple of hours a day can make a big difference.

Hire out things like house cleaning, yard care, and even shop for groceries online-services that can buy you some valuable time and save energy.  

3. Join Caregiver Support Groups

There are lots of caregiver support groups online. They offer support, tips, and a chance to talk to people in similar situations.

Connecting with others will help you to feel less isolated and lonely. Online videos give specific caregiving instructions on how to safely perform medical tasks.

4. Talk to Someone

Start by talking to a trusted friend or family member. You might be reluctant because you feel like you are a burden, but most people are happy to listen and offer support.

If you feel like you may be suffering from depression or anxiety, a therapist can help. Most therapists offer teletherapy services so you don’t have to leave your house. Ask for recommendations from your doctor or friends.

5. Look for Respite Services

Respite services include Adult Day Care where your loved one can go for the day for activities and meals. Depending on where you live and what resources may be available, you might be able to find respite through your Area Agency on Aging.

Other respite options include a few days in a furnished room in an assisted living community. Call your local assisted living to find out about this possibility. Most will let your family member stay for up to two weeks. This is also a good way to try out the future option of assisted living.

6. Set Limits for Yourself

This is a tough one, but necessary. The fact is, you can’t do it all, or if you are, then you need a break! Decide each day what is reasonable for you to tackle and what you can delegate or leave for another day.

Each day, also decide what you can do for yourself. It might be something small like doing a few minutes of stretching or yoga. Perhaps taking a few minutes to call a friend if for nothing else, to vent a bit.

Set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself of the goals you have set. It is easy to let the day slip away without taking the time that you have set aside for yourself.

7. Educate Yourself

Caregivers take care of people with a variety of illnesses and disabilities. Educating yourself about these conditions can be very helpful. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association has information about the different dementias, signs and symptoms, and behavioral management techniques.

If your loved one has heart disease, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, or any number of other disorders, there are national organizations that can help. They can recommend caregiver support groups, give symptom management information, and guide you to local affiliates.  

Books on caregiving talk about everything from coping to planning. They can be valuable resources to refer to on your own time.

8. Look for Ways to Cope

Coping techniques help you feel in control of your time and have the added benefit of relieving stress. Some suggestions:

  • Meditation. Meditation is simply mindful deep breathing. The great part- it can be done in just a few minutes. Look online for instructions on how to get started. Even deep breathing can calm your nerves and reduce stress.
  • Yoga. Many people are intimidated by yoga. Yoga is something you can make your own by adapting the poses to suit your comfort level. Look for books and online free tutorials. Just a few minutes a day can relieve stress and burn out.
  • Laugh. Whatever makes you laugh, do it! From movies to jokes to TV shows, laughter relieves stress.
  • Music. Music can help to keep your spirits up. It might even help your loved one too.
  • A positive attitude. Making positive statements or affirmations works to keep you energized and hopeful. Find or think of affirmations to help get you through the day. Repeat them to yourself when your spirits and confidence start to sink.

9. Accept Your Feelings

Your feelings are valid, whatever they are. Feelings of shame, anger, and insecurity are real. Try not to punish yourself and instead, practice acceptance. Part of mindful meditation practice involves allowing thoughts and feelings to pass through you without judgment.

Express your feelings to others when appropriate, and remember that the act of expression can be a huge relief. You may find it helpful to write your feelings down by keeping a journal.

10.  Consider Other Living Arrangements

One of the hardest decisions a caregiver can make is to consider other living arrangements for their loved one. However, this may be necessary and if done with loving care and concern, senior care can be a benefit for the caregiver and family member.

At some point, the financial, physical, and emotional toll may exceed what you can afford to continue to provide. Some families consider assisted living as a viable alternative to in-home care.

Assisted living will assist with most aspects of care as long as someone is not too impaired to take care of. With your loved one being taken care of, you can step back and be a loving family member, rather than a caregiver. Memory care communities are good options for people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease who may have problems with wandering. 

Caregiver Burnout Is Not Inevitable

Life can be complicated to manage and the added stress of caregiving can tip you over the edge. Awareness is the first step to learning how to cope with caregiver burnout. It can feel hard to consider putting yourself first, and at times may seem counterintuitive.

However, if you do not take care of yourself, your ability to enjoy your life and your job will suffer. When you are able to curtail or manage your burnout, you can find ways to enjoy your job and peace of mind.

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