People are living longer than ever before, which means an increasing number of adults are finding themselves in a caregiving role, whether it’s for a partner, parent, an elderly relative or friend. Being a caregiver can be very rewarding, however, it can also take its toll on both your physical and mental health. Finding the balance between providing care for your loved one and maintaining your own physical, mental and emotional health can be a struggle. You’re also at risk of developing something known as caregiver burnout. As well as affecting your ability to care for your loved one, it is also very risky for your own health. The risk of chronic depression, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and premature death can increase when you find yourself looking after an aging loved one.
What are the Signs of Caregiver Burnout?
Caring for a loved one can be very stressful. In addition to coping with their illness you can also have to deal with additional financial pressures, changes in family dynamics, and general disruption in family life. Knowing what to look out for can protect you from suffering from caregiver burnout. The signs include:
- A feeling of hopelessness
- Lack of energy
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Sleep problems, either not getting enough or too much
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Not taking care of your own emotional and physical needs
- Becoming impatient, irritable or argumentative with the person you’re caring for
- Feeling like caregiving has taken over your life
- Fears about the future
- Mood swings
- Problems coping with everyday things
- Physical problems including headaches and stomach aches
- Lowered resistance to illness
Knowing what to look for means you’re better able to pre-empt caregiver burnout. Here are some ways to de-stress and take care of yourself.
Shift Your Focus
Stress and burnout can creep up on you very slowly. Unless you focus on yourself a little more, you might not recognize the need for self-care until it’s too late. You’ll be better able to combat your stress if you’re proactive and do everything you can to prevent it from happening.
You’ve already won half the battle and that’s got to be better than trying to recover from it later.
Set Aside Time Just for You
It’s very easy to get caught up in looking after an elderly relative 24 hours a day but to keep your sanity you have to take time out for yourself. Even if you don’t feel you need to, take some time doing something you love. Make a commitment by writing it in your calendar and don’t make excuses not to stick to it.
Look for Support
Many hospitals, mental health agencies, and churches run caregiver support programs. If you take part in some of these, you’ll feel less alone and also realize that feelings of helplessness, sadness, burnout, and frustration are normal. Support groups will also help when you have to make a decision about your loved one’s future care. They’ll be able to provide information about assisted living and other options together with their own experiences of this type of care.
Exercise and Relaxation
Exercise has a positive effect on stress, and for many people it has proved to be just as effective as medication when it comes to making them feel better. Relaxing activities can also have a significant effect on stress. Try yoga, deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. You don’t have to spend hours relaxing. Just ten minutes in the middle of a hectic day is going to help you feel more centered.
When you’re feeling stressed and tired the last thing you’re going to feel like doing is exercising. It’s really worth making the effort because you’ll feel so much better afterwards. Make it a goal to have a minimum of 30 minutes exercise most days. You could always break it up into 10-minute intervals if that makes it easier.
Something else you can do to ensure you feel healthier is getting plenty of sleep. Eight hours is the norm but if you’re getting less your mood, energy, productivity and ability to handle stress will suffer.
Eating well is also important and when you’re caring for an elderly relative, your diet has to be nourishing. That means plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats such as fish, nuts, and olive oil. These foods will provide you with a steady flow of energy.
Rejuvenate and Recharge
There are a number of different activities that can leave you feeling recharged and rejuvenated. Why not spend some time outdoors enjoying nature? Feel-good experiences such as a massage or spa can also leave you feeling renewed and energized. Cooking classes, listening to live music, going to the theater or visiting a museum are just a few more suggestions.
Spend Time with Your Pet
If you’ve got a pet find time to enjoy their company, as all they’ll want from you is your company and love. Research has also found that pets can be good for our health. If you haven’t got a pet of your own why not spend some time with a neighbor’s pet or visit a local animal center and have fun with the animals there?
When you spend a lot of time caring for someone, it’s easy to neglect your social life. We’re naturally social creatures and isolating yourself increases the risk of burnout or depression. Find the right balance between your caregiving role and being with people who can build you up and be a source of pleasure.
Being a caregiver doesn’t mean it has to take over your life. Try to stay positive and remember the valuable role you’re playing in your loved one’s life. Feel strong and confident about what you’re doing but don’t forget about taking care of yourself. It’s normal to feel tired and exhausted at times, but don’t soldier on without getting help when it’s needed. Stress can quickly turn into something more serious and before you know it, you’ll be unable to care for your loved one. Follow the tips above and it will be less likely to happen.