Caregiving is an important and stressful job. We enter it from an emotionally fragile place. Our fears become real. Our uncertainty about what to do cannot be ignored, but in order to survive this life stage, a well thought-out plan is essential. Like any successful enterprise, having an understanding of what you are about to enter into will help you accept your new role and give you a roadmap for coping. Caregiving is a gradual process. The signs are different for each individual, but they are definitely present. I encourage each caregiver to be pragmatic. How do you do that? You must take yourself to the place of a distant observer, where you can view the situation from an unemotional, well thought-out, objective place. By standing back and removing yourself temporarily from the center of the “storm”, you will gain perspective and this will go miles in helping you create a plan.
As a caregiver, it is natural for you to be tempted to try and do everything for your loved one. Depending on the condition of your loved one’s health, you may find yourself having to do many things they previously did for themselves, such as personal grooming, driving to appointments or day-to-day household duties. It is responsibilities such as these that have the potential to cause undue stress. Even if the person is greatly dependent upon you for their care, you will find that you are better able to maintain your own mental and physical health, and the dignity of the person for whom you are caring, if your roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. This is not the time to be shy about your needs. It is the key to your survival, and you must clarify your role through open communication. Unless your loved one is mentally incapacitated, you must talk about their wants and needs, and be sure to make yours clear as well. Discuss today’s necessities, but plan for the future. In time, you may find yourself with increased responsibilities such as, medical, home maintenance, legal and financial matters. Make certain that you not only understand what your fiduciary boundaries are, but to whom you can refer to for other important decisions when the time comes.
It cannot be stressed enough that in order to survive the caregiving process and avoid total burnout, you must set up systems to help you. You do not have to do this alone. Help is available and the time you take to understand where it is and how to access it is crucial to your survival. I share all my tips for Self Care in the E-book on The Care Company. It’s an easy read, but I’ve been told it’s very helpful.
Surviving Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout is a real condition and nothing to be taken lightly. I am constantly astounded at how many caregivers just blow it off and tell me that “it’s just not that big of a deal.” It is a BIG DEAL! and a dangerous one at that. It is described as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.” Burnout can occur for any number of reasons, but usually because the caregiver is doing more than they are able, either physically or financially, (or both). Do you have any of these symptoms?
- Social withdrawal from friends, family and loved ones.
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
- A constant feeling of hopelessness or irritability and helplessness.
- Changes in weight
- Sleeplessness coupled with complete emotional and physical exhaustion.
- Frequent illness
What Can Be Done?
- You must have a support system in place.
- Set realistic goals and turn to others for relief with certain tasks.
- Be realistic about the illness you are confronted with. Your role is not to heal, but to help make life manageable for your loved one.
- Set aside time for yourself. This is not a luxury, but a necessity.
- Talk to a professional if you feel your life is spinning out of control. You can’t afford not to.
- Look into respite care services.
- Educate yourself. Take the time to research and learn.
- Do the basics. Eat right. Exercise. Get plenty of rest. (Know when it’s okay to turn off the phone and be quiet.)
- Pamper yourself. Take a bath; a long shower; spend time in nature; tap into your own spirituality and ask for help.
- Accept your feelings of frustration and anger as normal.
- Make time for activities you enjoy.
- Caregiving is rewarding, but there will be times when you will also feel anger, sadness, frustration and grief. Try not to judge your feelings. They are neither good nor bad, but rather a normal part of being human.
Caregiving is hard work, filled with numerous demands. Sadly, many caregivers lose perspective about the importance of their role and feel guilty if they spend time on themselves. You cannot care for another person if you do not care for yourself. You must be kind to yourself and embrace the idea that your role as a caregiver is vital to our society. You are engaged in the ultimate service – giving of yourself to another person. Honor your role and honor yourself.
If you find that you are really struggling emotionally or physically, make an investment in yourself. Go to a spa. Spend the day with friend. Take a quiet getaway. Get some personal help. Are you worth it? Do you think you are? Or do you feel guilty if you take time for you. If you answered yes to that, then you need to change your thinking and your focus. The Care Company offers numerous ways to find and get help. Will you do it?