Taking Care of the Caregiver
Most of us don’t include becoming a caregiver in our life plan.
Yet, when a loved one becomes ill or simply declines due to aging that is the role we find ourselves in.
When a loved one needs our help, typically our first reaction is we can manage it—and often, at first, we can. However, as their condition deteriorates and the day-in, day-out demands on us as caregivers increase in both effort and time, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Inevitable changes in family dynamics, household disruptions, financial issues, isolation, and feelings of guilt only increase the stress.
If we do not prepare for our new role as caregiver, what began as a loving act can negatively impact our physical and mental health, our outlook on life, and even cause us to resent the person we are caring for.
Here are some of the symptoms that can alert you to caregiver stress and burn out:
Signs and symptoms of stress for the caregiver:
- Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
- Anxiety or depression about the future
- Having trouble concentrating
- Easily irritated by small nuisances
- Developing new or worsening health issues
- Feeling increasingly resentful of your situation
Signs and symptoms of burnout for the caregiver:
- Excessive tension and debilitating depression
- Chronic fatigue even after rest
- Increasingly impatient and hostile towards your loved one
- Decreased life satisfaction as a caregiver
- Increased health problems and medications
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
As a loving caregiver, your first responsibility to your patient is to keep yourself physically strong and mentally healthy. If you recognize the signs of stress or burnout in yourself, seek professional help from a counselor or a caregiver support group. To prevent stress and burnout as you move forward, below are some simple strategies that can help.
Strategies for preventing or fixing caregiver stress and burnout:
- Be willing to say “yes” to help from friends and family. Keep a list of things others can easily do for you—such as grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, taking children to school, the laundry, making meals you can freeze, lawn care, car maintenance, giving you a regular weekly break, etc. This way, when people offer to help, you are ready to tell them exactly how.
- Inquire about homecare services or senior daycare programs. These can provide your loved one with much needed socialization while providing you worry-free, free time.
- Reserve at least 30 minutes EVERY DAY do something you enjoy. For example, go for a walk, talk to a friend, read, engage in a favorite hobby, or work in the garden.
- Isolation can be an issue for caregivers too. Get out of the house and talk to someone socially every day
Focus on “acceptance” of your situation. Differentiate between the things you can and can’t control—and then let it go.
Take time to realize and appreciate the strengths you’ve gained as a caregiver and how caregiving has helped you show love and compassion.
- Take care of your health first. Eat right, get enough sleep, maintain regular doctor visits.
- Use meditation techniques, deep breathing, or exercise to reduce stress.
- Consider joining a support group to share experiences or problems and find solutions.
Taking time to rest, relax, and recharge isn’t a luxury for a caregiver, it’s a necessity. Being a caregiver may not be something you planned, but your acceptance and understanding of this role will keep you and your loved one together, sharing this journey, and celebrating what is still possible. It may also bring you unexpected joy.
Lisa Kauffman, MSW, is a geriatric care manager and has been in practice for more than 18 years.