Family Health, Your Health Lindsay Guinaugh | 7 years ago

Learn How to Combat Caregiver Burnout

As many as 43 million Americans care for older parents, grandparents, spouses and other loved ones. Caring for an ill spouse or family member can be a fulfilling experience: a chance to give back to an aging parent or bond more closely with a loved one. But over time, caregiving can also become exhausting and the demands can be overwhelming for even the best caregivers.

“Caregivers are typically so busy looking after a loved one that they often neglect to take care of themselves,” said Patrick Meadors, PhD, LMFT, Manager, Psychosocial Oncology, with Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Cancer Institute. “This can lead to resentment, depression, fatigue, stress and anxiety – among other things.” To avoid caregiver burnout, it’s important to recognize the signs, work to prevent it, and know when and where to seek help.

Signs of Burnout

Recognizing burnout is the first step in overcoming it. If you’re headed down that path or are already there, you may experience: • Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones • Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness • Increased irritability Appetite changes, changes in weight or both • Changes in sleep patterns • Getting sick more oftenHypertension, headaches, gastrointestinal complaints • Impulse to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring • Feeling exhausted emotionally and physically • Excessive use of alcohol or medications, like sleeping pills

Preventing Burnout

“You have to change your caregiving mindset and recognize self-care as essential to your survival instead of a luxury you can do without,” said Meadors. These steps can combat caregiver burnout: • Set aside time for yourself: Schedule a time each day to relax, meditate or engage in quiet/peaceful activities. You’ll lower your blood pressure and heart rate and feel physically and mentally recharged. • Keep in touch with family and friends: Maintaining your social ties works wonders for your mental health. In fact, supportive relationships fend off depression and keep you grounded. Joining a caregiver support group can help, too. • Eat to replenish your energy: Choose a diet packed with fiber-rich, whole-grain breads and cereals; fresh fruits and vegetables; lean beef, chicken or fish; and healthy fats, such as olive oil, to maintain your energy levels. Review snacking habits to promote healthy living. • Get regular physical activity: A workout can boost your mood, reduce tension and depression, and help you sleep better. If you've been inactive, speak with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program. • Get adequate sleep: Getting enough sleep – seven to nine hours per night - helps you feel refreshed and rested. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, call your provider: he or she can recommend sleep strategies or prescribe medicine to help you.

Seeking Help

If the symptoms above describe you, speak with your healthcare provider about your feelings. He or she can help you see things clearly and set goals to get your health back on track. “Additionally, it’s best to learn to accept help from others,” said Meadors. Meadors suggests these tips on ways to decrease your caregiving burden by seeking outside help: • Accept help: Take family, friends and neighbors up on their offers to help - for example, have a friend do your shopping or watch your loved one while you shop. • Reach out: Contact a local church or civic group for assistance. Many have volunteers who can help with a variety of things. • Hire help: If you are financially able, hire a caregiving or hospice service. • Try home delivery: Home delivered meal programs or yard service companies can help ease the burden of home maintenance and upkeep while you focus on yourself and your loved one.