Aging is an undeniable part of life; so too is providing care in one form or another for your elderly loved ones. The vast majority of people will, at some point in their lives, find themselves acting as a caregiver for an elderly or otherwise incapacitated loved one. Although acting as a caregiver is an important role, it is crucial that you are able to recognize the signs of burnout and know what steps you may take to address the issue. Otherwise, you will harm yourself and put yourself at increased risk of developing physical and psychological conditions; further, if you are burned out you can harm your elderly loved one due to your diminished capacity to provide the needed care.
Recognize burnout when it begins to happen
You need to be able to recognize the signs of burnout so you can identify it and take the appropriate steps when it begins to become a problem. Signs of burnout include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- Reduced energy
- Lowered motivation
- Lowered resistance to illness
- Feelings of lethargy or exhaustion even after resting
- Decreased sense of satisfaction with your life; bleakness
- Emotional dullness
- Inability to relax or enjoy recreation
- Feelings of depression, helplessness, and/or hopelessness
- Increased irritability, resentment, or anger towards the person you are caring for
- Unhealthy escapism through alcohol, drugs, or overeating
- Loss of idealism about caregiving
If you experience any of these symptoms—or anything else that may lead you to think you may be becoming burned out—it is important to take steps to recover and refresh yourself. You can’t save someone else from the water if you are drowning yourself.
Tips to address burnout
Get help. There is nothing wrong with asking someone to help share the load and give yourself some time to recuperate. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or a professional caregiver, you need to make arrangements for someone else to provide care for your loved one so you can take a much-needed break.
Take a break. Sometimes caregivers feel that it’s a sign of weakness to take some time for themselves; on the contrary, recognizing your need for a break and doing something about it shows your resolve to continue caring for your loved one by preserving your ability to do so. You should take—at a very minimum—at least thirty minutes each day for yourself. Use this time to relax, engage in an activity you enjoy, or even take a well-deserved nap.
Learn to accept the things you cannot change. Don’t stress yourself out trying to fix a problem you cannot solve. Don’t blame yourself for your own limitations. Don’t try to figure out why a certain situation is happening. Instead, learn to peacefully and graciously accept the challenges and try to find the small positives in your life. Doing this will go a long way toward reducing your frustration and stress.
Do not neglect your health. Caregiving can be very stressful and very demanding. These things can eventually take a toll on your physical health, especially if you get so wrapped up in Caregiving that you start letting your own health habits slide. Make sure to keep up on your doctor visits, exercise routine, eating habits, and stress-relieving activities. Treat your body like a car: it needs to be maintained in order to remain in good working condition.
Find a good support group. What better place to find people who can empathize with you and even assist you than a place where other like-situated people gather? Sometimes just the act of sitting down together and talking about everyone’s situation will be therapeutic. If you cannot physically attend a support group gathering, never fear: the Internet is a very useful tool for connecting with other caregivers.
Being a caregiver is a very important role that most of us will fill at least once during the course of our lives. When it’s your turn, you must take care to recognize the signs of burnout and know what steps to take to prevent it from happening. This will help you remain healthy and happy, and will help your elderly loved one by ensuring you can continue providing the care he or she needs.
American Heart Association.Signs of Caregiver Burnout. Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Responsibilities/SignsofCaregiverBurnout/Signs-of-Caregiver-Burnout_UCM_301831_Article.jsp#.Vi5jwmtqCUk.
HelpGuide.org (website). Caregiver Stress and Burnout: Tips for Recharging and Finding Balance. Available at http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/caregiving-stress-and-burnout.htm. Last visited October 22, 2015.
HelpGuide.org (website). Preventing burnout. Available at http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/preventing-burnout.htm. Last visited October 26, 2015.