Caring for the Caregiver
Do you ever feel like you have so much on your plate and are taking care of everyone and everything, except for yourself and your needs? Are there times throughout the day you feel exhausted, irritable, anxious, and when you look in the mirror you do not fully recognize the person staring back at you? And somewhere in your head and heart you know that you are doing great things for others, giving it all, and trying your best, but somehow feel like you’re not doing enough or when you give yourself a pat on the back, you feel guilty??? These are signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout.
Who exactly is a caregiver?
A caregiver is any person who provides assistance to another person. This person can be a parent, a relative, a child, a neighbor, friend, or significant other/spouse. An informal caregiver is a person who does not get paid for the assistance they provide. According to the Caregiver Action Network, “More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.” The number of individuals becoming informal caregivers to their loved ones is increasing and continues to do so.
What services do a caregiver provide?
A caregiver can provide personal care, such as bathing, dressing, and toileting and custodial care, helping with grocery shopping, transportation, cooking, cleaning, laundry, medication management, finances, coordinating appointments, and spending quality time with that person. The person does not have to live with the caregiver in order for these services or acts of love to be provided. The loved one may live independently or with the caregiver.
Caregivers provide physical, emotional, and psychological support. The caregiver ensures that the person they are caring for has all their needs met and are happy and healthy as medically possible. So much focus is spent on the person in-need, that the caregiver themselves often is neglected. The caregiver usually neglects their own emotional, physical, and psychological needs and often does not take time for themselves.
What does caregiver burnout look like?
Caregiver burnout affects a person in more than one area, either simultaneously or at different points. These are the physical, emotional, and psychological. It can also cause serious stress on the caregiver’s heart and cause overall decline in one’s health. Some of the most common symptoms are feeling alone or isolated; weight gain or weight loss; anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, isolated, sad or worried; loss of interest in activities and spending time with friends and family; experiencing headaches or body aches; change in sleep and eating patterns; and feeling tired no matter how much sleep one receives.
How can caregiver burnout be relieved?
The first step is to recognize that something is not quite right and admit it. Many caregivers are in denial or believe by recognizing their burnout and doing something about it, makes them a weak. This is definitely not the case! A caregiver is only as good to the person they are taking care of as how they treat and care for themselves. If someone offers help, accept it. Do not feel bad! You are not in this alone. Find support from family and friends. Try to maintain healthy eating habits and exercise regularly. Also, getting enough sleep is crucial. Remembering to take time to relax and do something enjoyable. Caregivers often forget what they find invigorating or calming because they put themselves last.
Making a list or talking with a good friend about activities you used to like and looked forward to doing and then carving out thirty minutes at least three times a week partaking in one of those activities can reduce levels of stress and burnout. These activities could be a taking a bath, reading a few pages in a book/magazine, cooking a special treat, coloring or painting, or booking a vacation, rock climbing, going to out to dinner with friends, shopping, taking a walk. If you find that you continue to feel tired, down, unmotivated, anxious and are not quite yourself, seeking therapy would be beneficial to ensure that your symptoms do not get worse. Counseling can help identify if there are any other issues going on as well as be cathartic and freeing.