Caring for an elderly parent or loved one can be extremely rewarding in many ways, but while those feelings of goodwill can be uplifting, the work can sometimes feel overwhelming and put you in a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.
And if ignored, those depleting feelings can lead to caregiver burnout. Burnout can happen when you don’t get the support you need, you neglect caring for yourself, or if you try to do more than you’re able - either physically or financially. Caregivers who are "burned out" may have symptoms that mimic fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Knowing the symptoms and learning the steps you can take to alleviate them can mean the difference between your own health and safety, as well as that of the person you are caring for.
Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout Can Include
- Lack of energy or overwhelming fatigue
- Withdrawal from friends and family or activities you used to enjoy
- Feelings of hopelessness or constant worry
- Physical ailments, such as headaches or stomachaches
- Increased mood swings or easily irritated
- Changes in weight and sleep patterns
- A weakened immune system
- Negative emotions or feelings of wanting to harm yourself or the person you are caring for
It can be particularly disheartening if you feel that you’re in over your head as a caregiver. Burnout is very common afflicting 40 percent of caregivers nationwide according to a survey conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute.
How You Can Prevent Caregiver Burnout
Understand Your Limits:
Caring for others can often feel like a demanding job with little to no downtime. It can be overwhelming and cause you to feel like you are not doing enough. Unfortunately, these unrealistic expectations can quickly lead to caregiver burnout. It is important to pay attention to your feelings. You may take on too much responsibility because you feel providing care is your job alone, yet caregiving requires a team. A successful caregiving team can be made up of family, friends, hired professionals, or a care provider service. Look into online resources which can provide you with support and assistance in your community.
Set Realistic Goals:
Be honest with yourself. Know what you can and can’t do and build a network of support to help when the task at hand is more than you alone can handle. Make a list of your daily activities and goals and prioritize them. Realizing that each task may not be completed in a day can lessen the burden and help you find a balance. Caregiving can also put a financial strain on a family. Create a budget and speak with an elder law attorney about asset protection and how government assistance such as the Community Medicaid Program can help pay for home-based care services.
Taking the time to learn about your loved one's illness and its progression can help prepare you for the road ahead. The more you know about the illness, the more you can provide the right kind of support at each stage. Speaking with an elder care law attorney at the onset of needing care can also ensure that you have all the legal and financial resources set up in order to provide and pay for the care. In addition, this allows the person needing the care to be part of the decision making process and express their wishes about future care.
While you may expect the care you provide to have a positive effect on the health and wellbeing of the person you care for, it may be unrealistic for patients who have a progressive disease. Understanding that the care you provide does serve its purpose, but that it may not be the cure, can provide clarity in your role as a caregiver.
It is important to remember that caring for others also requires caring for yourself. Set aside time for yourself each day, whether it be an extra 15 minutes in the morning to enjoy a cup of coffee, an afternoon walk or a night out to enjoy time with friends and family. Giving yourself permission to take breaks allows you to refuel your energy and mental clarity so you are able to continue your caregiving efforts.
Seek Out Caregiver Support:
There are numerous local and national support groups available to caregivers. Speaking to a professional or other caregivers going through similar experiences as you can provide a lifeline against caregiver burnout. You’ll feel better knowing that other people are in the same situation, and their knowledge and resources can be invaluable. In addition, these networks allow you to give support and encouragement to others.
Following a healthy lifestyle can help increase your energy, relieve stress, and improve feelings of depression. Make sure to eat well, get enough sleep, exercise as often as possible, and don't forget to laugh.
Allow Others to Help:
Taking on all of the responsibilities of caregiving without regular breaks or assistance is a leading cause of caregiver burnout. Be upfront about the responsibilities you are shouldering and enlist others to help out and be your backup when needed. Don’t try to do it all alone.
Family Leave Benefits:
Taking time off from work to provide full-time care after your loved one requires surgery, medical treatment or other procedures can add to your stress. Consider making use of the Paid Family Leave benefit offered by your state which can allow you up to 12 weeks of time off from work and ensure your job will be held during your time away.
A Brief Getaway:
Taking a vacation from caregiving can revitalize a caregiver and provide the needed balance in your life that is especially important for caregivers who also need to reconnect with their own families. One way to do this is to utilize Respite Care. Respite Care provides temporary relief for a primary caregiver, enabling you to take a much-needed break from the demands of caregiving. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided in your home, in a healthcare facility, an adult day center or at a residential center.
To find out more about finding elder care resources, planning your estate, and paying for long term care, contact our legal and care team at Tully Law Group at 631-424-2800 to set up a free consultation.