As I write this, there is someone right now, somewhere, caring for a loved one. Physical, hands-on, lifting, transferring, bathing, dressing, feeding, grooming care. About 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months.
My family was recently in this situation and it definitely had an effect on our family and household dynamics. Whether by choice, or lack of external options, family members are providing care for loved one in all corners of the world. Medical conditions vary and necessitate different care plans, but overall , being a caregiver is physically demanding, mentally exhausting and sometimes, absolutely frustrating. Caregiver syndrome or caregiver stress, a term often used by many healthcare professionals, is a condition that strongly manifests exhaustion, anger, rage, or guilt resulting from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill patient.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, Caregiver burnout is 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 when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able — either physically or financially. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones. Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression.
The trick to avoiding burnout, is to take time for yourself and recharge your batteries. There is a common thought amongst caregivers that no one else can care for your loved one as well as you. This leads to the caregiver never taking any “time off”. But just like a regular, paid job, weekends and holidays are needed to replenish energy, rest physically and change your environment. Research respite care in your town or county.
What are the symptoms of caregiver burnout?
The symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression. They include:
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and other loved ones
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless
- Changes in appetite, weight, or both
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
Thankfully, there are many ways, most simple and several free, to take time for your own self-care. If you are one the million of unpaid family caregivers and facing a burnout, please take a look at the list and see which methods you can employ to recover and take care of you. Important note* instead of thinking of this as one more thing to do, think of it as a gift to to yourself and those you are caring for.* A more grounded and replenished caregiver will be able to provide more loving and efficient care.
- Pick one thing that you need to do and get it done so it’s off your mental “to do” list.
- Get a manicure or pedicure. Your hands and feet deserve some love for all they do. Try to find a natural salon so that you can avoid chemicals in the air and on your skin.
- Treat yourself to a massage. Groupon always has offers.
- Take a walk by yourself or with a neighbor. Be mindful of what you see. Appreciate the fresh air and beauty of nature.
- Get a book from the library (free) or bookstore about some topic you’ve been interested in, but have never taken the time to learn. Afterward, spend a few minutes each day learning about it.
- Use a planner or a calendar to intentionally schedule “me time.”
- In the morning, listen to music that inspires and motivates you.
- Write a list of things you’re grateful to have in your life and post it somewhere you can see it often. We have a tendency to focus on the negative, so remind yourself of the good stuff.
- Go through your closet and purge the clothes you haven’t worn in years. Donate them to a charitable organization. Less items means less decision making.
- If you also work outside the house, bring your favorite lunch to work and pack an encouraging quote or fun food. Fruits and Veggies with bright colors help energize.
- Try meditating for a few minutes. You can do this while waiting for appointments, on hold while calling someone, while your loved one is resting.
- Call your best friend or a family member you care about just to say hi. Keep the conversation light.
- Learn how to sew or knit. Self-sufficiency may have offer mental health benefits for you as well as a fun diversion.
- Watch a few short funny videos on YouTube or social media. Laugh!
- Try out a form of martial arts or yoga. A lot of studios offer a free lesson. It’s a great way to get exercise, let off steam and take time for yourself.
“It is not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” — Lena Horne, singer
Good Glow Yoga and Self-Care offers Yoga and Self-Care Workshops specifically designed for Caregivers. If you’d like to learn more, please use the contact form below.