By Alison Wood, Contributing Writer
Caring for a loved one is rewarding, but it can also have its challenges and difficulties. This can be particularly true if you are bearing the weight of caregiving by yourself.
Caregiving is often a long-term, round-the-clock commitment. In such a situation — where hours are long and the burden of responsibility falls solely on one person — it’s not uncommon for “caregiver burnout” to creep up, sometimes without warning. However, it’s likely that the warning signs were already there; the caregiver has simply continued, dutifully and valiantly, trying to hold it all together on his or her own.
If you are caring for a partner, parent, another relative, or a friend, you’ll find that both sides of the care situation — the giver and the receiver — are emotionally involved. Due to ill health or other issues, the person being cared for might not be able to recognize that you, as the caregiver, are under so much pressure. Furthermore, the cared-for person might have once been the caregiver’s own source of comfort and strength, before the caregiver relationship evolved. With this no longer being the case, it can leave the caregiver with a sense of isolation.
Signs of caregiver burnout
The caregiving role will never be stress-free, but there are times when that stress feels like it is escalating out of control. Burnout can leave you feeling powerless. You will often experience negative emotional and physical symptoms such as:
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Depression and anxiety
- Irritability with the person you are caring for or with your wider circle of friends and family
- Feeling too tired for any activities outside of your caregiving duties
- New health issues arising, or excessive worrying about your health
- Addictive cycles, such as unhealthy eating or reliance on alcohol and cigarettes
Not everyone will experience these symptoms in the same way. But the bottom line is that you will reach a point where you know things cannot carry on as they are. This is not good for you, nor for the person you are caring for. Therefore, it’s vital to start recognizing these warning signs so you can make changes as early as possible.
Steps to recover from burnout
The steps you will need to take to ease burnout and recover from it will vary depending on how it has affected you. However, the following key areas can be helpful to everyone.
Accept what is
When guilt, tiredness, and distress in regards to the ill health of a loved one are all added to the mix, those negative emotions can soon take its toll. While it’s not possible to cancel out these feelings completely, it can help if we just accept what is. While it’s perfectly natural not to want to be in our current situation, sometimes we expend more energy trying to fight things rather than just accepting things as they are. Use the energy that is released and gained from acceptance to find more ways to ease the situation.
Release negativity and express gratitude through journaling
Journaling can be very effective tool in dealing with burnout. When we are feeling angry, resentful, or worried, we might not want to burden someone else with such emotions, but writing them down can be a helpful outlet. If you can weave some things for which you are grateful into your writing, that can be a positive element as well.
Prioritize your health and self-care
You can’t care well for someone else if you are unwell, and that’s why self-care is never a selfish act. If you have health issues that need to be addressed, then take the time you need for medical appointments and checkups. It’s also important to make sure you are eating a healthy diet, sleeping enough hours, and getting some exercise. Just make sure the physical activity is something you enjoy, whether that’s walking, dancing, or heading to the gym.
Access respite to get the time you need
You might be wondering how you are going to find time for this self-care, and the answer is access to some ongoing respite. Respite is practical help from another caregiver, provided so that you can take some much needed time for yourself. Other family members or friends might be able to support you with tasks such as driving, cooking, or housekeeping duties. If not, in-home caregiver support through us at Care & Comfort at Home can be a great solution. If you live in the Chicago or Denver areas, you’ll find that help from Care & Comfort at Home is available as needed and covers a wide range of important in-home care services. Click HERE to learn more!
Join support groups
Lastly, try to connect with others who have caregiving roles. There can be a huge amount of emotional support gained from talking things through with others in the same situation. You can also learn a lot of ideas from others with caregiving experience that might be able to help you relieve your stress and deal better. In-person meetups can be great, but if this is not possible (especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic), online groups such as on Facebook can be accessed whenever the time is best and most convenient for you.
Caregiver burnout is very real and very distressing to experience. However, if you can recognize the signs and take steps to put positive changes in place, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, these tips will be beneficial for you and for those receiving your care.