Looking after one another is a crucial part of life. It is the duty of a parent and the promise of a spouse. Whether out of duty or profound love, millions have taken up the responsibility of looking after someone they care about. It's why they're called carers.
However, whether your loved one has special needs, is elderly, or infirm, the caregiver's road is not easy. For many, trapped between their love and their sense of duty, they succumb to caregiver burnout. In the US, the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute discovered that 40 percent felt emotionally stressed, with a further 20 percent reporting being physically strained. Also, there are also significant financial issues, as people attempt to juggle two lives, numerous jobs, and other responsibilities to their family.
It is little wonder people are being worn down: burnout isn't an anomaly, it's inevitable. Or is it? Some strategies can be used to help, both proactively and when a caregiver is feeling overwhelmed.
1. Accept Help
'Sometimes asking for help is the most meaningful example of self-reliance.' – Cory Booker, U.S. Senator
You are not alone. Repeat the message. Internalize it. You are not alone. Though the caregiver's mantle might feel like a lonely task, you can ask and accept help. It does not make you a failure: it makes you human. Ask a family member to assist with an errand or a spouse to cook dinner while you see your parents. These are normal and acceptable requests. You can't do everything, and you shouldn't try.
2. Be Realistic
There's an old saying: 'a problem solved, is a problem halved.' The message is evident when you feel overwhelmed by a problem. Break it down into smaller chunks. Don't assume you can tackle a whole problem in one go. Don't jump into the deep end. Instead, work out what you can reasonably accomplish. If you set yourself unrealistic goals, you'll always feel like a failure. You'll assume you are doing a terrible job. That path leads to burnout. So, be realistic. You're doing your best.
3. Recognise the Symptoms
Caregiver burnout doesn't appear out of thin air. It rumbles for months as the tension and anxiety build. By recognizing the warning signs, you can be proactive in its prevention. To prevent caregiver burnout is to ensure the person you care for can continue to rely on you. If you struggle to look after yourself, slumping into depression and exhaustion, you won't be able to look after others.
4. The Importance of Self-Help
There's an irony that caregivers care for everyone else but themselves. Yet, they are deserving of care too. Self-help isn't selfish; it's vital for maintaining good health and emotional strength. Regular exercise provides an outlet for your stress and is known to help with mental health issues. Plus, it's good for your physical health.
Eating healthily, drinking plenty of water, and getting a good night's sleep is vital to maintaining physical fitness. When you are always on the go, your immune system can take a battering. Therefore, using a little self-help can keep you fit and well. As the author, Jim Rohn said, 'Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live.'
5. Be Supported
Although at times you will feel like you are the only one dealing with your problems, you aren't. Out in the world, millions of other people have and are experiencing the same issues. As such, there are often support groups available in your local area through which you can discuss your problem, receive advice, and even make friends. You will meet like-minded people who understand the difficulties you are experiencing. They can listen to your concerns and may even have some tips of their own, based on prior experience.
6. Take a Break
The person you care for doesn't get a break from their infirmity, so why should you? This is the toxic mantra of many caregivers. Taking a break, even for a moment, is seen as a sign of weakness and failure. However, that's a ridiculous standard; what other job or duty requires constant and unwavering commitment. Thankfully, there are many outstanding respite services available to assist caregivers when they feel overwhelmed. These include in-home respite, adult care centres, and short-term nursing homes.
What you do with your time is up to you: have a day at home relaxing, visit an attraction, or go on a short holiday. You'll be amazed at how relaxed and refreshed you feel when you return. You'll have a renewed vigour.
7. Stay Informed
Knowing about the illness or difficulties of the person you care for is vital to being an effective carer. It can also help prevent caregiver burnout. Anxiety is partly caused by uncertainty about the future; knowing is half the battle. When you are aware of your loved one's prognosis and the specifics of their condition, you can mentally prepare and accept the realities of the situation. If you mistakenly believe you can nurse them back to health, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Additionally, you can become aware of services such as meal delivery, housekeeping, or transportation by staying informed. These can help make your life easier.
8. Don't Feel Guilty
Negative feelings and emotions are perfectly normal. If you ever feel frustration, anger, or resentment towards the care recipient, you shouldn't feel guilty. You're not a bad person. You're just feeling trapped and overwhelmed. Following the tips list above will help, but it's also crucial to speak to someone about your feelings. By expressing yourself, you release the bottled-up feelings and emotions, like poison from a wound.
Nor should you feel guilty if you didn't achieve the standard of care to which you aspire. Goals are an admirable dream. But they are not a rod for your back. Go easy on yourself; you're doing your best. In the words of the singer Lena Horne: 'It is not the load that breaks you down. It's the way you carry it.'