According to AARP’s 2015 Caregiving in the U.S. Report, 38 percent of caregivers consider their situation to be highly stressful. Furthermore, nearly half of this high-stress group provides more than 20 hours of care each week. Even if you believe you are on top of your loved one’s needs and meeting your own, it is crucial for you to periodically take an objective look at your circumstances to prevent pushing your limits too far. You may be meeting many of these needs, but are you providing the best possible care? At what costs?
“Some people do not realize the extent of their stress and burnout, so they do not realize that they need to take action or look into things that can help them,” says Barry J. Jacobs, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania and author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers: Looking After Yourself and Your Family While Helping an Aging Parent. “This puts those caregivers at greater risk for fatigue and depression and, ultimately, for being unable to continue their caregiving duties.”
Ignoring Signs of Burnout Can Have Dire Repercussions
No one should ignore symptoms that may signal changes to their well-being. This is particularly the case for caregivers who tend to be hyper-focused on caring for their loved one – sometimes to the detriment of their own health.
Headaches and neck pain can indicate undue levels of stress. There are emotional warning signs as well such as feelings of hopelessness and irritability. Sometimes, the inclination is to push through these signs. The feeling is that the patient’s needs are far greater than the minor discomfort of the caregiver. This is a mistake. Often, the symptoms become worse, not better, and, in the end, no one is well-served by ignoring the warning signs.
How Can I Prevent Caregiver Burnout?
Here are some steps you can take to help prevent caregiver burnout:
- Find someone you trust — such as a friend, co-worker, or neighbor — to talk to about your feelings and frustrations.
- Set realistic goals, accept that you may need help with caregiving, and turn to others for help with some tasks.
- Be realistic about your loved one’s disease, especially if it is a progressive disease such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
- Don’t forget about yourself because you’re too busy caring for someone else. Set aside time for yourself, even if it’s just an hour or two. Remember, taking care of yourself is not a luxury; it is an absolute necessity if you’re going to be an effective caregiver.
- Talk to a professional. Most therapists, social workers, and clergy members are trained to counsel individuals dealing with a wide range of physical and emotional issues.
- Take advantage of respite care services. Respite care provides a temporary break for caregivers. This can range from a few hours of in-home care to a short stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
- Know your limits and do a reality check of your personal situation. Recognize and accept your potential for caregiver burnout.
- Educate yourself. The more you know about the illness, the more effective you will be in caring for the person with the illness.
- Develop new tools for coping. Remember to lighten up and accentuate the positive. Use humor to help deal with everyday stresses.
- Accept your feelings. Having negative feelings — such as frustration or anger — about your responsibilities or the person for whom you are caring is normal. It does not mean you are a bad person or a bad caregiver.
At the end of the day, your continued good health as caregiver is critical to the well-being of your patient/loved-one. Take the steps necessary to ensure that you can continue to function optimally, for their benefit … and yours.