Caregiving is extremely challenging that often leaves people involved overwhelmed and exhausted. In many ways, it is a rewarding experience. However, due to its long-term challenge (sometimes decades), people feel worn out and gradually deteriorate themselves.
The problem worsens when despite your best efforts, the loved one continues to weaken from the illness. That said, there is a lot of support available for family caregivers out there. This blog post summarizes the steps you can undertake to bring hope, joy, and a sense of balance in your life again.
Let’s understand how you can deal with caregiver stress and burnout in detail:
What are the Caregivers Stress Symptoms?
If left unchecked, caregiver stress and burnout can harm your state of mind, relationships, and health. When you reach a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, you inadvertently hurt your loved ones.
For this reason, addressing the caregiver stress symptoms is a necessity and not a luxury. However difficult it may seem, taking care of your physical and emotional wellbeing is just as essential as ensuring the wellbeing of your elderly family member.
Learning the signs and symptoms will prompt you to seek help and take immediate action. This would prevent the situation from getting out of hand. And you can begin your healing journey henceforth.
Here are common caregiver stress symptoms to look out for:
- Feeling increasingly resentful
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling run down or exhausted.
- Worsening physical and mental health problems
- Drinking, binge eating, and smoking more often.
- Increasing irritability, overreacting to minor nuisances
- Trouble concentrating on anything.
- Depression and anxiety
- Spending little or no time on leisure activities
Here are common signs of caregiver burnout you should be aware of:
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Caregiving doesn’t offer any satisfaction or rewarding experience.
- Constant exhaustion after taking a break or even after sleeping.
- Increased vulnerability to bouts of flu going around now and then.
- Reduced energy overall
- Feeling increasingly irritable and impatient with your elderly loved one.
- Even when help is offered, you have trouble relaxing.
- You may not heed to your own needs anymore.
If you can tick most of the symptoms and signs of caregiver burnout and stress, it’s time to seek professional help.
How to Cope with Severe Caregiver Burnout?
While caregiving cannot be 100% free of stress, there’s quite a lot you can do to lighten the load and find more balance. One thing you must remind yourself is that you are not powerless. This feeling is one of the most significant contributors to caregiver stress and burnout.
It leads you to the pitfall of anxiety and depression, which is challenging to get out of. Hence, no matter what happens, do not feel powerless. You may have an absence of physical assistance, money, or time. However, what you can always have an abundance of are hope and happiness.
Besides, the following steps will help you avoid severe caregiver burnout:
- Practice acceptance: “Why?” This is the question caregivers often ask themselves, and understandably so. Life is unfair. Watching your loved one fade away is heart-wrenching. There are some unanswered questions about life and death that are perhaps beyond human comprehension. However, we have learned so far that you cannot change something by dwelling on it. All that tremendous amount of energy is spent for nothing. Instead, the only thing you can do is accept this fact of life. Blaming someone else or feeling sorry for yourself will only make things worse.
- Embrace Caregiving: When you first took the responsibility of caregiving, you probably aimed to repay your loved one for everything they did for you or have a rewarding experience for yourself. Whatever the initial reasons may have been, most of them were positive. But since it was a conscious choice made by you, it’s your responsibility to stick to it, keep doing it with a smile on your face. How so? By just reminding yourself of those initial reasons. That’s not to say you should ignore the burden you feel. Instead, you should acknowledge them but not let them overpower your conscious decision to provide care for your loved one. Think about the values you are going to set for your children. That should motivate you and embrace caregiving wholeheartedly.
- Celebrate small victories: Your efforts matter. Even if your loved one is living with a life-limiting illness, your efforts got them this far, and that’s the reason to celebrate. Whether or not you can cure them completely is something you have no control over. Hence, letting go of things you cannot control while focusing on small victories is necessary to prevent severe caregiver burnout.
- Find time for yourself: Even though caregiving is a huge part of your daily life, don’t let it dictate every aspect of it. If you also focus on other rewarding areas of your life, you’ll be more accepting of the caregiving situation. Invest time in things that offer purpose and meaning to your existence – be it your career, a favorite hobby, religion, or family.
- See the silver lining: You may ask: what’s the silver lining in all of this? Without a doubt, the caregiving experience will leave you closer to the patient and a lot stronger than you were ever before.
Feel Appreciated for Your Efforts
A little appreciation now and then bodes well for caregivers. They enjoy life more often and become more accepting of stressful situations. Moreover, their emotional and physical health stays intact despite the demands.
Even if your loved one cannot express their appreciation, there are many things you can do about it and avoid caregiver stress and burnout.
Have a look:
- Pat yourself on the back: This may seem unnecessary or childlike until you realize the importance of it. If you’re not receiving any external validation, you have to find ways to reward yourself and acknowledge your efforts. Make a list of ways you are helping your loved one. Whenever you feel low, this list would remind you of the difference you’re making in their life and that of yours.
- Talk to a friend: If you do have someone you can talk to, do not shy away from it. Remember, you’re going to need all the help you can get. You don’t have to get positive reinforcement only from the person you’re caring for. Turn to family and friends who can make you feel appreciated.
- Imagine the response of your loved one: Because of their diminished ability, your aging loved one may no longer be able to express how proud they feel about you. This situation is prevalent in Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. However, since you’ve known them for several years, you can probably imagine their response to your efforts. If they were able to, they would express gratitude for everything you’re doing for them. You can find peace and comfort in that fact.
Ask for Help.
This is probably the most crucial step for avoiding caregiver stress and burnout. Working non-stop without assistance does not do your health any favor. You are not alone in this.
These are some caregiver stress interventions you must know about:
- Join a support group: Even if you cannot leave your loved one’s side, there are plenty of online support groups you can join. Not only would you receive help and acknowledgment but also offer help to someone in need. Most importantly, you’ll realize that you don’t have to be alone.
- Relinquish some control: It’s natural to feel defensive about your loved one, especially considering their situation. However, when you seek professional help, you have to learn to relinquish some control and not micromanage everything.
- Accept assistance: If someone is willing to offer small tasks like taking your elderly loved one for an appointment or picking up groceries, do not deny the help. If they are happy to do it, accepting any assistance would avoid caregiver stress and burnout.
- Share the responsibility: While not all caregivers may have this luxury, you should delegate some of the duties to other family members. Even if they are living far away, they can always handle the bills and finances. And if someone is living close by, they can run errands, buy medicines, etc.
- Seek respite care: You deserve a break. If not family members, you can get paid volunteers to help on a regular or occasional basis. It’s good to explore respite programs such as nursing homes and adult day care centers.
- Don’t hesitate to speak up: One cannot automatically expect family members or friends to automatically understand feelings and needs. You must be upfront about the situation and proactively share your thoughts and concerns with them.
Above all, prioritize your health. If you continue to deteriorate, you cannot possibly help a loved one. Eat well and exercise regularly. Getting enough sleep and practicing meditation are two of the sure-fire ways of avoiding caregiver stress and burnout.