A little insight to what you should know about stress and burnout as a care giver
Although caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, there are many stressors involved such as the changes in the dynamics of your family, added workload, financial pressure and including household disruption.
As a caregiver, stress can be particularly damaging as it is a typically chronic and long-term challenge that you may face for years or perhaps even decades dependent upon the caregiving responsibilities involved. It can be very disheartening when there is no hope that your family member will recover and or get better.
Without any adequate support and help, the stress of caregiving does leave you vulnerable to a whole range of emotional and physical problems such as the possible loss of weight or perhaps the opposite, depression, and heart disease. Considering all this, it comes as no surprise that you as a caregiver are amongst some of the people most prone to becoming stressed and burnt-out and should or when this happens, it affects your ability to provide the care your loved requires and this hurts both of you.
What needs to be understood here is the point, and fact, that caregivers need care too. It is important not to forget about your needs as a caregiver and manage the stress levels in your life too, same as it is important to ensure that your family member takes their medication on time, gets to their doctor’s, dentist’s, opticians, or hospital appointments, have their meals and so on.
Some tips on dealing with stress and burnout for caregivers
As a caregiver taking on all the responsibilities of caring for your loved one without regular breaks or assistance is a definite recipe for burnout. Try and enlist friends and family, especially those who live close by to run errands, perhaps bring a meal over or sit in thereby allowing you to have some you time to yourself or, if available, look into respite care either with a nursing home or perhaps another member of family could take on the role enabling you to have a break. Do not try to do everything alone; you need to look after yourself.
Ask for help with things
As a caregiver, you need to speak up. If you have any concerns and or thoughts about how to improve the situation, express them even if you are hesitant about how they will be received and be up front about what’s happening with both yourself and the person you are caring for. Develop a dialogue; you can’t expect friends and family to know automatically how you are feeling, let alone what you need.
It’s a good idea to spread the responsibility. You may decide you want to divide up the care tasks for instance; you could have someone be responsible for medication, another for groceries and various errands, another for finances and bills and so on. Also, try and get as many family members as is possible involved and remember even that people who live far away are able to help with things too.
To keep all concerned on the same page, set up a regular check-in time by asking a family member, friend, or perhaps a volunteer from your church to call you on a regular basis that you set between you which could be daily, weekly or as often as you feel you need it, as this person can assist you with coordinating with other members of the family including status updates of your loved one.
When someone offers you some help, say “yes” when assistance is offered. It’s a good idea to have a little list at hand of tasks that others could easily take care of such as picking up groceries. Don’t be shy about accepting their offer to help and allow them in return to feel good about supporting you.
It is wise to be willing to relinquish some control as people are less likely to want to help you if you micromanage, give out orders or insist on doing things your way only. Delegating is one thing, but trying to control every aspect of care to do with your loved one is another.
Allow yourself a break
During each day, set aside a minimum of thirty minutes for yourself. This period is yours to do whatever it is you enjoy doing albeit playing with your dogs, sewing, reading or just sitting quietly in the garden with a cup of tea or coffee.
Remember to love yourself and find ways to pamper yourself. Little luxuries can go a long way in boosting your spirits and relieving you of stress. Treat yourself to whatever makes you feel special, for instance, get a manicure and or pedicure, get a massage, light some scented candles and take a nice long bath or perhaps you may want to get some flowers for your home.
Laughter is a wonderful antidote to stress and a little can and does go a long way. Find ways to make yourself laugh. This could be through watching a comedy, reading a funny book or phoning a friend who always makes you smile and laugh. Always try and find some humour in your everyday situations.
The act of expressing what you are going through can be extremely cathartic. Try and visit with friends and share your feelings. Interacting with others is important for you. If you find it is difficult for you to leave your home, invite friends to come over for lunch or dinner, even if only for a chat. By sharing your feelings with others does not make you a burden, if anything, most friends will be flattered that you trust them enough to open up and confide in them strengthening the bond between you.
As a busy care giver you owe it to yourself and whom you are caring for to include within your daily schedule some leisure time even though it might seem like an impossible “luxury”. You will be a much better care giver for granting yourself the permission to do things you enjoy and getting some rest… there is a difference between being busy as opposed to being productive. By taking time off to de-stress and recharge your batteries will help you get more done in the long run as you should feel more energetic and focussed for it enabling you to make up your relaxation time out period.
Practice the art of acceptance
You cannot wish away you mother’s or father’s condition away nor can you force your brother or sister to assist more let alone assist at all, so instead, focus on the things you can control and choose the way in which you react and respond to any problems rather than stress over the things you can’t control.
Look for and find the silver lining. Think about the ways in which care giving has made you a stronger person, how it’s brought you closer to the person you are caring for, other family members and also how it allows you to express and show your love as well as giving back.
Learn to share your feelings and talk to a friend or therapist about how you are feeling and going through as a family caregiver. Expressing what you are going through and how you are feeling can be very cathartic even when and if there is nothing you can do to alter the present situation.
You want to avoid tunnel vision and not let care giving take over and rule your whole life. It is much easier to accept a difficult situation when there are other areas of your life that are rewarding. It helps to invest in the things that give you both meaning and a purpose, for instance, your career, a hobby and so on.
As a care giver, when you are faced with the unfairness of a loved one’s illness and or the burden of care giving for them, often, there isn’t any need to make sense of the situation and keep asking yourself why over it , and yes, it is easy to spend time and energy dwelling on things which you are unable to change and that have no clear answers for and at the end of the day, you won’t feel any better for it. Instead, you need to focus on accepting the situation and look for ways that will help you grow as a person after all, it is said that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger right? So, try and avoid that emotional trap of looking to blame someone else or feeling sorry for yourself.
Taking care of your health
You need to keep on top of your doctor appointments. When you are busy caring for a loved one, it is easy to forget all about your own health. Do not miss your medical appointments and checkups; after all, you need to be in good health to take care of your loved one.
Get some exercise. Exercise is a powerful stress reliever and mood enhancer. It is not easy when you are feeling stressed and tired to incorporate exercising, but you will feel better for doing so afterwards. Aim for at least a thirty-minute workout every other day. This will help fight fatigue and boost your energy level.
Find time in your day to meditate. Try mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or yoga. By meditating just for a few minutes during the middle of your day when you are feeling overwhelmed can help you feel more centred, relaxed and refreshed.
Make sure you eat well. You need to nourish your body with healthy foods such as vegetables, fresh fruits, beans, whole grains, lean protein along with healthy fats like nuts and olive oil as these foods will provide you with a steady release of energy. Do try to avoid caffeine and sugary foods that will provide you with a quick pick me up and an even quicker crash.
Most people need more sleep than they think and cutting back on the amount of time you spend in bed sleeping is counterproductive especially if your intention is to get more done, so, do not skimp on your sleep. An average of eight hours sleep is the norm and anything less could affect your energy, mood along with your ability to handle stress and be productive.
As a care giver, you need to fuel and maintain your body for it to run well and be more reliable just as you would a car. In this instance your body is your car, if you neglect it, it will start to give you trouble. You have enough stress within your care giving situation as is that you certainly do not want to add any avoidable health problems to it.
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