Preventing Caregiver Burnout

Tips and Support for Family Caregivers

Adapted for My Heart and Hands, LLC

Outside the world of paid work, the people most prone to burnout are caregivers – people who devote themselves to the unpaid care of chronically ill or disabled family members. The demands of care giving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel you have little control over the situation or that you’re in over your head.

If you let the stress of care giving progress to burnout, it can damage both your physical and mental health.  If you’re caring for a family member, it’s essential that you get the support you need. The good news is that you’re not alone. Help for caregivers is available.

Family caregivers: What you should know about burnout

Providing care for a family member in need is a centuries-old act of kindness, love, and loyalty. As life expectancies increase and medical treatments advance, more and more of us will participate in the care giving process, either as the caregiver, the recipient of care, or possibly both.

Unfortunately, care giving can take a heavy toll if you don’t get adequate support. Care giving involves many stressers: changes in the family dynamic, household disruption, financial pressure, and the sheer amount of work involved. The rewards of care giving  can be intangible and far off, and sometimes there is no hope for a happy outcome.

As the stress piles up, frustration and despair take hold and burnout becomes a very real danger. To prevent caregiver burnout follow a few essential guidelines:

  • Learn as much as you can about your family member’s illness and about how to be a caregiver as you can. The more you know, the more effective you’ll be, and the better you’ll feel about your efforts.
  • Know your limits. Be realistic about how much of your time and yourself you can give. Set clear limits, and communicate those limits to doctors, family members, and other people involved.
  • Accept your feelings. Care giving can trigger a host of difficult emotions, including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief. As long as you don’t compromise the well-being of the care receiver, allow yourself to feel what you feel.
  • Confide in others. Talk to people about what you feel; don’t keep your emotions bottled up. Caregiver support groups are invaluable, but trusted friends and family members can help too. You may also benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor.

10 Tips for Family Caregivers

  • Reward yourself with respite breaks often.
  • Watch out for signs of depression, and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it.
  • When people offer to help, accept the offer and suggest specific things that they can do.
  • Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition and how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  • There’s a difference between caring and doing. Be open to technologies and ideas that promote your loved one’s independence.
  • Trust your instincts. Most of the time they’ll lead you in the right direction.
  • Caregivers often do a lot of lifting, pushing, and pulling. Be good to your back.
  • Grieve for your losses, and then allow yourself to dream new dreams.
  • Seek support from other caregivers. There is great strength in knowing you are not alone.
  • Stand up for your rights as a caregiver and a citizen.

Source: National Family Caregiver’s Association

Warning signs of caregiver burnout

Once you burn out, care giving is no longer a healthy option for either you or the person you’re caring for. Therefore, it’s important to watch for the warning signs of caregiver burnout and take action right away when you recognize the problem.

Common warning signs of caregiver burnout:

  • You have much less energy than you used to.
  • It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around.
  • You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break.
  • You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore.
  • Your life revolves around care giving, but it gives you little satisfaction.
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available.
  • You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for.
  • You feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless.

Preventing caregiver burnout tip 1: Get the help you need

Find caregiver services in your area

The first strategy for preventing caregiver burnout is: Don’t try to do it all alone. Taking on all of the responsibilities of care giving without regular breaks or assistance is a surefire recipe for burnout.

Ask for help when you need it.

  • Caregiver services in your community – (Start with My Heart and Hands, LLC to provide services or put you in touch with other resources).
  • Community transportation services – (My Heart and Hands, LLC can help you with this).
  • Telephone check-ins – Telephone reassurance provides pre-scheduled calls to home bound older adults to reduce their isolation and monitor their well-being. (My Heart and Hands, LLC is available to help with this).
  • Adult day care – If your loved one is well enough, consider the possibility of adult day care. An adult day care center can provide you with needed breaks during the day or week, and your loved one with some valuable diversions and activities. (Mt. Hood Adult Day Center is an excellent choice in the Gresham, OR area. 503.512.7373).

Preventing caregiver burnout tip 2: Seek emotional support

Pablo Casals, the world-renowned cellist, said, “The capacity to care is the thing that gives life its deepest significance and meaning.” Although caregivers are often isolated from others, it’s essential that you receive the emotional support you need, so you don’t lose that capacity.

Share what you’re going through with at least one other person. Turn to a trusted friend or family member, join a support group, or make an appointment with a counselor or therapist. You can also draw strength from your faith. A congregation in a church or synagogue can provide the encouragement you need to feel good about your care giving role, and may also be able to provide a break from time to time.

The value of caregiver support groups

Remember that old adage, “trouble shared is trouble halved”? A caregiver support group is one way to share your troubles. Seek out people who are going through the same experiences that you are living each day. If you can’t leave the house, many Internet services are available.

In most support groups you’ll talk about your problems and listen to others talk; you’ll not only get help, but you’ll be able to help others too. And the knowledge you share can be invaluable, especially if you’re dealing with the same illness.  Most importantly, you’ll find out that you’re not alone.

Community support groups for caregivers:

  • People live near each other and meet in a given place each week or month.
  • You get face-to-face contact and a chance to make new friends who live near you.
  • The meetings get you out of the house, get you moving provide a social outlet, and reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Meetings are at a set time. You will need to attend them regularly to get the full benefit of the group.
  • Since the people in the support group are from your area, they’ll be more familiar with local resources and issues.
Internet support groups for caregivers:

  • People are from all over the world and have similar interests or problems.
  • You meet online, through email lists, websites, message boards, or chat rooms.
  • You can get support without leaving your house, which is good for people with limited mobility or transportation problems.
  • You can access the group whenever it’s convenient for you or when you need help most.
  • If your problem is very unusual – a rare disease, for example – there may not be enough people for a local group, but there will always be enough people online.

To find a community support group, check the yellow pages, ask your doctor or hospital, or call a local organization that deals with the health problem you would like to address in a support group. To find an Internet support group, visit the website of an organization dedicated to the problem or do a web search on the name of the problem. (Call My Heart and Hands, LLC for local information).

Preventing caregiver burnout tip 3: Take care of yourself

When you are a caregiver, finding time to nurture yourself might seem impossible, but you owe it to yourself to find the time. Without it, you may not have the mental or physical strength to deal with all of the stress you experience as a caregiver. Give yourself permission to rest and to do things that you enjoy on a daily basis. You will be a better caregiver for it.

Tips for taking care of yourself:

  • Incorporate activities that give you pleasure even when you don’t really feel like it. Listen to music, work in the garden, engage in a hobby…whatever it is that you enjoy.
  • Pamper yourself. Take a warm bath and light candles. Find some time for a manicure or a massage.
  • Eat balanced meals to nurture your body. Find time to exercise even if it’s a short walk everyday. Do the best you can to sleep at least 7 hours a night.
  • Laughter really is the best medicine. Buy a light-hearted book or rent a comedy. Whenever you can, try to find some humor in everyday situations.
  • Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts and feelings. This helps provide perspective on your situation and serves as an important release for your emotions.
  • Arrange a telephone contact with a family member, a friend, or a volunteer from a church or senior center, so that someone calls each day to be sure everything is all right. This person can help by contacting other family members with status updates or to let them know if you need anything.
  • Try to set a time for afternoons or evenings out. Seek out friends and family to help you so that you can have some time away from the home. If it is difficult to leave, invite friends and family over to visit with you. Share some tea or coffee. It is important that you interact with others.
  • Don’t forget to breathe.

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