Caregiver burnout is a very real national health problem, affecting families and close friends of individuals with physical, emotional, mental, and substance abuse issues. Helping a loved one through a difficult illness requires love and patience, but you also need to take care of yourself. Caregiver burnout happens when the person who’s providing support and care begins to suffer from a lack of self-care or from emotional exhaustion. Here are 9 essential tips for caregivers that will help you take care of your loved one in the best way possible, without compromising your own health.
- Learn about your loved one’s condition. Whether you’re a full time or part time caregiver, and whether your loved one has a physical or mental illness, knowledge is key in everything you do. The more you know about and understand your loved one’s condition, the more you can do to help (and the less offense you will take when your loved one doesn’t show appreciation).
- Do something for yourself every day. Caregiving is exhausting and demanding, and it’s common for caregivers to lose their sense of self as they pour all their energies into taking care of a loved one. What are your hobbies or interests? Find ways to pursue your own passions for an hour or so each day.
- Set clear guidelines and expectations as to how much care you can provide. This is important when caring for an extended family member who lives outside your home or when caring for someone in your own home. You can’t be all things to all people, and trying to do everything sets you up for caregiver burnout. Reach out to other family members and local support groups to find care for your loved one when you can’t be there.
- Recognize the value in your contribution. Instead of focusing on what you can’t change about your loved one’s situation, focus on following the doctor’s advice and on helping your loved one through the day. Sometimes it helps to focus on simple tasks, such as preparing lunch or washing a load of laundry, and recognizing the impact these daily things have on your loved one’s life.
- Keep depression away. Be aware of the symptoms of depression, as caregivers are highly susceptible to developing depression. The first signs of depression may include: a lack of enjoyment in favorite activities, a decline in personal grooming, feeling isolated and disconnected from friends and family, feelings of hopelessness, changes in sleep (not sleeping through the night, or getting too much sleep), irritability, appetite changes (including gaining weight or losing weight), participating in risky behavior, anger, or apathy.
- Exercise regularly for your mental and physical health. Take a walk with a friend, go on a bike ride, or do yoga. Find ways to exercise that fit your interests and your schedule. If it seems like finding half an hour a day is impossible, look again. There’s always a way to fit it in, even if it’s by getting an exercise bike and spinning away while you watch your favorite show with your loved one.
- Seek out the advice of therapists, social workers, and local support groups. These individuals can help you find options and seek out solutions to what may seem like insurmountable problems. If you are feeling burned out, exhausted, overwhelmed, hopeless, or highly anxious, a therapist can help you.
- Socialize regularly. One of the prime concerns common to caregivers is the isolation that caregiving can create. Nurture relationships with friends and extended family members and make these relationships a strong priority in your life. Staying connected socially with others makes it much less likely for caregivers to develop depression.
- Schedule breaks. Whether you’re the full time caregiver, or the caregiver for evenings and weekends, you still need breaks from time to time. Daily caregivers need time off once a day to relax and recharge. Once a week, daily caregivers need several hours away from their responsibilities to stay happy and healthy. Weekend and evening caregivers need to schedule a few nights off a month, at a minimum.
If you or a loved one could benefit from assistance in dealing with emotional issues, substance abuse, or similar issues, contact the Intake and Referral Department at 8320834-7710 at Houston Behavioral for help.