Preventing caregiver burnout

Make no mistake, moms and dads are the most under-appreciated, hardest working caregivers out there!

Spouses are caregivers as well! A caregiver can even be a child.

When you provide assistance to someone who just can’t do it for themselves, whether it is temporary or on a permanent basis, you are giving care to that person.

Care-giving brings on a kind of mental (and sometimes physical) stress that is often overlooked until the symptoms are unbearable.

I think it’s because when we love someone we’re just “supposed” to automatically do whatever is needed without question and no matter what cost it is to our own well-being.

It’s just expected.

That’s why caregiver burnout happens.

We have got to learn to have balance in our lives. I realize that sometimes things truly seem like they are all up to one person to do but oftentimes, upon closer examination, there are other people who can help alleviate some of the burden of care giving.

And yes, it is a burden, which seems to be a taboo word. A burden is a weight, a heavy load, a lot to handle. If care giving on a regular basis isn’t a burden, I don’t know what is. I’m not saying we don’t love the person or would choose another life. I’m just saying the actual daily tasks of care giving is a burden. Step one for preventing burnout is recognizing that fact.

To clarify, I wouldn’t tell anyone they themselves are a burden because people who need help are not a burden. It’s the situation that is a burden. The mental or physical ailment is the burden. It’s a lot for that person to have to deal with as well as the ones who care for them. Just as we would want someone to care for us if we had a disability of some kind, we should care for others. But no one person should have to bear all the weight alone.

When you have healthy kids it’s a lot less of a burden because as they grow they learn to do things for themselves which takes the load off year by year. It’s a lot more natural. It’s fun to watch their progress day by day and year by year. Each stage of their lives are enjoyable in different ways.

Same with spouses too. As long as the loads are equal it’s totally manageable.

But in either case, even caregiving for a spouse or family can be really difficult if there’s only one person doing it and they also have to work. Single parents are some of the hardest working people I know.

As a matter of fact, if you know a single parent, I challenge you to do one thing for them within the next two weeks. It could be bringing them a meal, cleaning up their yard or even just bringing in the garbage cans on garbage day. Believe me, any help you can do will be appreciated because they have too much on their plate. Put it in your calendar to find a way to help them within the next two weeks!

Here are some ways to reduce or prevent caregiver burnout. Some you may have thought of while others may be new ideas.

1. As previously mentioned, recognize that caregiving is a heavy load to take on. Yes, it’s to be commended. In truth, you may be just doing what needs to be done no matter the cost to yourself. It is, however, a heavy load and you will need breaks from carrying that load or you will break.

2. Don’t pigeon hole yourself into just being a caregiver. You are a lot of different things. Caregiving is just part of who you are right now. You have needs too. You should have dreams and goals for yourself apart from caregiving. That’s normal and necessary to your happiness and well-being. You were not put on earth to only be someone’s caregiver. If you believe that to be true, it’s because you identify yourself as a caregiver and have taken that on yourself. You deserve a life apart from caregiving. As a matter of fact you deserve to be cared for too. No one can be happy every day ONLY caring for someone else. It will get overwhelming and feel like prison. I believe identifying solely as a caregiver is one of the worst mistakes one can make no matter how noble it may seem.

3. Realize and accept you need help. This can be a huge thing for some people to do. If you don’t already have a support system or “team,” start looking around for helpers. Surely there is more than one person who can help. Look to professional caregivers like nurses, CNA’s, psychologists and social workers, family members, friends, acquaintances and even strangers (not the weirdo kind. Lol I’m talking about volunteers here)! If you have a medically challenged person for whom you’re caring, you can start by asking the doctor for resources. They will hook you up with a social worker and you’ll go from there. You may be surprised to know that there are community volunteers who are looking for ways to help people in your exact situation!

4. Learn to delegate efficiently. As the main caregiver or manager of the team you may have responsibilities that no one else can handle. If you’re a parent, you’ll need to be the one to make medical decisions, probably be the one going to doctors appointments and most likely will be the night caregiver as well. You’ll need to make sure there’s enough food and supplies for your loved one and their basic, emotional and physical needs are met. That’s a lot.

So you’ll need to learn to delegate tasks and divide them up. I suggest monthly or bimonthly meetings as well as keeping the team in the loop via emails as to progress being made as well as set backs or areas that need improvement. You’d be surprised how, when presented like this, people will step up to do what they can. Oftentimes, people want to help but don’t know how. You must be willing to identify where you need help, ask for help and accept it no matter what that may seem to do to your ego. It’s just an ego. Get over it. Remember the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In other cultures (and even some other animal groups such as elephants!) it is not uncommon for sisters, aunts and grandmothers to play active roles in raising the children of the family. In modern society, that would include brothers, uncles and grandfathers as a well.

5. Trust your team. Once you are able to identify where you need help and have people to delegate or ask for assistance (your team), you need to be willing to allow them to do the task in their own way. Don’t micromanage. It will be the death of you if you expect everyone to do something the exact same way you would do it. As long as they aren’t doing something that could potentially harm your loved one, let them help you and your loved one in their own way. This includes paid caregivers. If you don’t, you will burn them out and push them away. Micromanaging anyone tells them you do not trust them to do the job correctly and that you aren’t appreciative for what they do. Just. Don’t. Do. It. There are many different ways to get a job done just as there are many different ways of loving and caring for someone. You, as a parent or relative, will do things differently and that’s ok. That’s YOUR role. If you want to fluff pillows and dote over someone by having their hair a certain way (if the person themselves don’t even care) or whatever little details they may be, that’s fine, but don’t nit pick others. If someone is willing to help you, let them!

6. Do all the practical things you need to do to take care of your own body and mental health including: getting enough sleep, laughing daily, having good hygiene and taking care of your appearance (I’m not talking about being fully made up here. I’m talking about making sure you have time to bathe and groom properly so you can feel your best), having down time to do something you really enjoy other than work or caregiving (even if you love caregiving and have made it your career or feel it’s your life’s calling) having time for other relationships, your spiritual health, exercise and physical health, etc.

7. Communicate effectively. Get organized. Prioritize your days. Get a white board so you can keep track of things like supplies or meds running low. Use a Google-share calendar with members of the team. Use email regularly to keep the team up to date. Never assume everyone knows a change in the care plan or schedule unless you have either seen a group email or sent one yourself. Even then, make sure the key members are aware of important changes.

The key is preventing miscommunications rather than “putting out fires” as I like to say. People who are always putting out fires are the ones whose lives are unorganized and chaotic.

Take the time to develop a clear system of where things belong. Identify different roles and responsibilities (never putting too much on one person even if it’s a paid caregiver). Update the white board and LOOK AT IT if team members are using it to give you messages. Don’t ignore other team members concerns. Be respectful, appreciative and conscientious of the fact that someone else has the best interest of your loved one in mind and cares enough to do so by listening to their input thoughtfully, even if you may not agree.

7. Lastly, but most importantly, find time to do something to relieve stress on a regular basis. Watching TV or playing games on your phone is not stress relieving.

For yourself: Try to focus on one task at a time. Planning your day and getting into a routine helps a lot. That in itself is stress relieving. Other ways to relieve stress are doing something creative such as blogging, journaling, making art, coloring, crafting (the ideas for being creative are endless), moving your body as in exercise, yoga or dance, meditation or prayer, spending time with a friend or counselor who can listen to your concerns without judgment (being able to vent), not engaging in drama (and avoiding dramatic people).

PRIORITIZE your life. I can’t stress that enough. As a nurse, I’ve learned that there are more than enough tasks in a day to keep myself busy and then some. I don’t put too much on my plate. If I am asked to do something time consuming I’ve learned to reply, “I’d love to if time allows but have some important tasks to do today.” I use a system I created early on which is to make a daily list of the most important tasks and stick to it. I actually do refer to it regularly throughout the day and even jokingly call it “my brain” because I can’t live without this major daily tracking system at this point. It’s easy to make and stick to. This doesn’t have to be fancy and can be done on a scrap piece of paper or, if you’re super into the electronic way, on a note-taking app. I do the most important things first and let the rest go for another day if time runs out. Some days, just keeping everyone safe and sound is enough. It’s more than enough and a big feat in itself sometimes! Life has a tendency to throw us curve balls. Be prepared for them.

Learning to go with the flow also is a huge stress reliever. You can’t beat yourself up for not being perfect.

Practicing gratitude on a regular basis is also a great way to reduce stress. It turns “can’ts” into cans and makes whatever you have more than enough. Gratitude helps you to focus on what’s important and let go of the rest. It helps you to find the blessings from struggles and is one of the keys to happiness, not just for caregivers, but everyone.

There’s  a lot more to it than this as each case has its own personal quirks. There are always things like family dynamics, cultural and religious beliefs and so much more to consider. However, I hope these things have been helpful as I’ve taken the time to think about ways to be successful in preventing caregiver burnout based on my experience as a home health nurse and what I’ve encountered to be the most effective ways to prevent it.

It always saddens me to see parents and loved ones unnecessarily stressing to the point of becoming physically and mentally ill when there really are practical solutions to prevent it. Part of my mission is to help families in situations like that. They really need it the most.

If you think this could be helpful to anyone you know, please share it. I don’t need credit. Copy and paste pieces to any social media or do whatever you want to do to get this message out: There is help for you. You don’t need to burn yourself out. It’s ok to ask for and receive help. It takes a village.

May you be happy and well.

Resources:

Definition of burnout according to WebMD:

Caregiver burnout  is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able — either physically or financially. Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.

Major symptoms of burnout:

Source: WebMD

I made a free blank to-do list here. You can copy, save and print as is or use it as an idea to make your own.

Ways stress (including caregiver burnout) can affect your body:

Ideas others have come up with to reduce stress:

Ways to stay creative:

Little ways to cope with stress: