About 30 percent of Americans are caregivers, serving the ongoing needs of a loved one. Coordinating transportation, scheduling doctor appointments, managing medications, cooking meals, bathing — caregiving is a demanding undertaking for one person. According to recent caregiver statistics, the average caregiver spends about 20 hours per week tending to their loved one’s needs.
Being a caregiver is a significant time commitment, so it’s crucial to take stock of personal mental, emotional, and physical health.
What Caregiver Burnout looks like
Few caregivers recognize when enough is enough, but many sense an imbalance between one’s personal time and the many responsibilities of caring for a loved one.
The symptoms of Caregiver Fatigue Syndrome, otherwise known as Caregiver Burnout, are similar to burnout in other professions. You may not realize you’re pushing yourself too hard, or that you’ve worked for too long and need a break.
Before you know it, stress can build into burnout. Learn the warning signals before stress and exhaustion affect the quality of care you normally deliver as a caregiver. You may notice:
- Feelings of hopelessness or discouragement
- Loss of interest in personal hobbies or goals
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Changes in diet, appetite or weight
- Unpredictable sleep patterns
- Increased stress, sadness, or irritability
Accept your feelings. Frustration happens, and addressing it head-on is the best way to begin resolving it. The better you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be at your job.
Resolve the stress with these tactics
You’ll be amazed at the momentum you’ll gain when you actively take steps to reduce your stress. Making that decision is half the battle.
Consider the following to improve your mental, physical, and emotional well being:
Strength in numbers. From online forums to support groups, caregivers find strength and accountability. Don’t be afraid to connect with others in the community to revitalize, review and recharge. Remember that you’re not alone.
Take breaks. Your loved one will understand. You deserve to stop and slow down every now and then. Decide together when you both can take it easy for a while. Even 30 minutes of rest can go a long way.
Sweat it out. Exercise is an excellent way to relieve stress. Whether you incorporate your loved one for a brief outing like a push around the block, or revisit an athletic activity you enjoy, you’re sure to feel renewed.
Plan ahead. It can be easy to get overwhelmed if you’re not careful. Be realistic. Set reasonable goals with your loved one that are achievable everyday. Create an itinerary with built-in time for breaks.
Tackle with technology. If you’re not using apps to keep organized, it’s time to start. You’ll find it’s much less taxing to use shared calendar apps, or task management tools. Explore other innovative solutions, too. Consider technology that alleviates the physical strain of caregiving: Instead of pushing and pulling a wheelchair in and out of the family car, try a mobility conversion with a helpful ramp.
Let it out. If you feel negative energy building up, reach out for help and express yourself. Whether you confide in friends or family, write in a personal journal or vent through an artistic pursuit, the more you cleanse your heart and mind, the better you’ll feel day in and out.
Set aside alone time. You needn’t feel guilty establishing windows of solitude. Start with 10 minutes a day and work up to 30 minutes as you explore the benefits of time for yourself. Grab lunch, read a book, meditate, and catch up with yourself. Healthy times of solitude let you return to your caregiving responsibilities feeling rejuvenated and centered.
Stay positive. Make a conscious decision to see things on the bright side. You and your loved one will have good days and bad days, but every day has small victories for you to focus on. Make the best of every challenge. Your perspective is contagious, so keep it uplifting!
Rest and relief. Establish healthy sleep patterns. When you don’t get enough rest, stress skyrockets. Give your mind and body ample time to charge up each night so you can approach the day with more energy.
Eat well. If you catch yourself settling for fast food, it’s time to slow down and eat more deliberately. Start with making a good breakfast in the morning to give you the energy you need to take on the day. Work your way into planning ahead for healthier lunches and dinners.
Learn your limits. It’s important to check in on your own mental health. On your breaks, make sure you’re getting everything you need. Think about the remaining tasks of the day, and what steps you can take to make them a little easier.
You and your loved can work together to avoid Caregiver Burnout. You serve them because you care. So while you might not get a pat on the back or a break in the storm, caregiving is much more rewarding when you take the time to take care of yourself, too.