“Sometimes the one who has been there for everyone else needs someone to be there for them.”
Are you a caregiver for someone who has a mental or physical illness or disability?
There are many types of caregivers: parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, teachers, nurses, counselors, etc. So often, people who are in caregiver roles devote all of their time, attention and resources to the person or people in their care. If they’re not mindful of their own needs and limitations (which we all have), caregivers can become so depleted that their ability to give adequate care becomes compromised. I know this sounds like common sense, but if you don’t learn to practice self-care, eventually you won’t be able to take care of anyone, least of all yourself. It is all too common for caregivers to suffer fatigue and burn out.
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.”
Have you noticed that lately you’re feeling irritable? Is your level of emotional and physical exhaustion at an all-time high? Do you find yourself withdrawing from the people who do their best to support you and understand what you’re going through? Have you lost interest in things that used to matter to you? Have you been getting sick a lot lately? Do you feel like you just can’t take it anymore? If these questions have elicited a resounding “Yes!” then you may be suffering from burnout!
With the holiday season upon us, you may be feeling even more isolated than usual. Either you don’t have the option of travelling to be with friends and relatives, or maybe you simply aren’t getting those kinds of invitations anymore. Sometimes just making it through the day is such a victory that holiday parties and dinner with friends can seem like ridiculous self indulgences. Caregivers can slip into a “zone” of focusing so much on the survival and well-being of others, that over time they forget about their own needs like belonging, connecting, feeling competent, learning, having fun, or just being an individual.
The following is a short list of things you can do, if caregiver burnout is looming on your horizon:
- Take little breaks for yourself whenever you can (even if it’s only for an hour).
- You know your limits. Don’t push yourself beyond your capabilities.
- Keep your sense of humor. Life is better when you’re laughing.
- Ask for specific help from others. Eg: I need you to come over and do two loads of laundry, while I take Henry to the doctor tomorrow. Or: I’m at a loss for what to do about dinner tonight, would you pick us up something from the deli at Publix while you’re there?
- Talk to someone who is trained to listen and provide support, such as a counselor, social worker, or clergy member.
- Research and use respite care in your area. You have options: in home, short stay, or assisted living.
- Learn as much as you can about the illness or disability of the person you’re caring for, whether it’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Asperger’s, or whatever.
- Stay healthy by eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising whenever possible.
- Find a support group of people who are going through the same thing. If you can’t find a good one, consider starting your own.
- Don’t beat yourself up for having negative thoughts and feelings. You’re not a bad person, if you are struggling with thoughts of being trapped or feeling resentful.
Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there to support caregivers and their families. The problem is that no one is going to bring them to you. You have to find them, and ask for help, and use it when they offer it to you. This can be harder than it sounds. If you’re already running on empty, it’s kind of hard to drive around and ask for directions to the nearest gas station. Thankfully the internet has made it infinitely easier for people to find the available resources in their area. Check out this list of support groups for Orange County at www.caregiver.com.
If you’re experiencing caregiver burnout right now, I strongly urge you to seek the help of a counselor as soon as possible. I’d also like to point out that if you are in a helping profession such as counseling, teaching, or medicine, you may need to be talking with a counselor about how caring for others is affecting your own well being. Give us a call at Life Skills Resource Group in Orlando at 407-355-7378, if this blog has resonated with you and your situation and you need some help. And, thanks a million for all you do for others. Best wishes.-Kim