When you hear the word burnout you likely associate it with office culture. Maybe you think of an employee that is overworked to the point of exhaustion. Or perhaps it’s someone who is disengaged at work because they are fed up with their company’s policies. These are both very real scenarios of burnout, but caregiver burnout is another situation that is all too common.
According to The National Alliance for Caregiving, more than one out of every five Americans is considered a family caregiver. Moreover, these caregivers are in worse health compared to a few years ago. And as the boomer generation continues to age, the number of caregivers is only going to increase. The more overworked and exhausted these caregivers become, the more at risk they are for burnout.
Some common signs of caregiver burnout include withdrawal, negativity, depression, fatigue, and sleep deprivation. Even if you aren’t experiencing all of these symptoms, you may still feel overburdened by the task at hand. You may find that all of your strength is going into taking care of an elderly loved one. You might de-prioritize your own needs or the needs of your partner and/or children. This is why avoiding burnout is crucial to your own well-being. Below, three strategies to steer clear of burnout while fulfilling your caregiving responsibilities.
1. Ask for Help
Whether you’re completely burned out or just teetering between feeling like you have everything together and going completely haywire, ask for help. This should be one of the first steps you take to protect your own mental and physical health. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy step. Leaning on other family members who live far away may seem unreasonable, while speaking with your friends may feel like you’re venting. And yet, asking for help is one way to unload some of the burden from your shoulders.
As you’re asking for help, you may come to the conclusion that you cannot provide the type of care your loved one needs. This is a difficult conclusion to come to and you may resist the mere thought of placing them in a residential facility. That said, if your own health is deteriorating because you’re taking on too much as a caregiver, this may be the best solution. Do some research and find a facility that meets you and your aging loved ones’ needs. Make a pros and cons list for each nursing home so that you have a comprehensive overview of all of your options.
Once your loved one is at the facility, let the caretakers do their job, but don’t be afraid to step in if needed. You know your loved one best, so if they ever feel at risk for abuse or neglect, take action. Speaking with nursing home abuse lawyers can provide the right kind of documentation, ensuring the facility is held accountable for their actions. Having this type of lawyer on your team is yet another way to ask for help and relieve some pressure off your own shoulders.
2. Set Boundaries and Take Time for You
As a caregiver, it can quickly feel like your life is revolving around your loved one. You may tidy up and clean their house while your own home is in shambles. You might run to the grocery store to buy their favorite items even though your fridge is nearly empty. You likely speak with their financial adviser about making payments while you have unpaid bills needing attention at home. Taking time for you means setting some personal boundaries to honor your needs.
Setting boundaries may be hard for you, especially if you feel like you owe it to your relative to care for them. But you must put on your own oxygen mask first. Your well-being is crucial to being able to support others effectively. When setting boundaries, let your loved one know that you need to focus on yourself to better focus on them. Simple changes like having them eat early so you can eat dinner with your immediate family may give you the respite you need.
Of course, taking time for you will also encourage you to ask for help. Maybe you set up a schedule so a neighbor checks on your relative during lunchtime a few days of the week. Or perhaps, you set up grocery delivery so you don’t have to think about running to the store. With this spare time, think about how you can refill your tank. A walk outside or a relaxing bath are some ways to recharge while stepping back from your caregiving duties.
3. Join a Support Network
Chatting with your friend about your caregiving obligations can be beneficial, but they may not be able to relate to your current needs. If someone isn’t also a caregiver, your experiences can be unrelatable. That’s why joining a support network of other familial caregivers can be a positive experience. It can be a way to feel less alone in the process. Additionally, you may also gain information to help inform you of how to take better care of your family member.
Thanks to technology, joining a support network of caregivers is easier — and more accessible — than ever. Support networks can be found on platforms like Facebook or online sites like CaringBridge. You can select a group based on your relationship with your relative or based on a condition they are managing.
Alternatively, you can opt to join an in-person support group within your local community. If your loved one is receiving care from a hospital or in a nursing home, ask the staff for recommendations. Faith-based groups are also commonly available if that is of interest as well. Regardless of what type of group you join, remember that your participation is not only helping yourself but those in the group as well.
Caregiving can be a rewarding experience, but also an exhausting one. Feeling worn out and depleted is not ideal, which is why proactively combating burnout is so important. Asking for assistance, taking a moment for yourself, and leaning on others are all ways to maintain your own well-being.
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