If you're among the 65.7 million Americans who act as caregivers for disabled or aging family members every year, you know the unique challenges and rewards that this type of role can bring. While caring for your loved one can bring a variety of benefits, it can also require significant energy and dedication, as well as sacrifice of personal time and resources. Caregivers who are unprepared to meet these increased physical and emotional demands often experience "caregiver burnout," also known as "caregiver stress."
Caregiver Burnout Symptoms
Common symptoms of caregiver burnout include fatigue, insomnia, and depression—in fact, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 60 percent of caregivers show signs of clinical depression. This often includes mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that can intensify if it is not addressed.
Avoid Caregiver Burnout
Finding ways to take care of your own needs as well as those of your family can be challenging, but with the right tools and a strong support network, burnout can be avoided. Casey Petersen, LCSW, MBA, MSW (University of Utah Hospital), suggested a few helpful tips to prevent caregiver burnout and empower yourself to provide the best possible care for your loved one.
It can be incredibly difficult to ask for or accept help. Learn how to say "yes" when others offer help, or to ask directly for the assistance you need. Spread the responsibility of care by getting as many family members involved as possible. You may be surprised by the support you can get when you learn to ask for it.
Additionally, you can find great relief through community resources and support networks. For example, Salt Lake County offers a support program for caregivers that can provide valuable information and assistance to help you avoid burnout. Look for caregiver resources in your own community, or connect with others in similar situations who can offer understanding and encouragement when you need it.
Empowerment means taking control of your situation and finding confidence to take on the challenges you meet in your new role. One way to help you get empowered is to celebrate the small victories. No matter how insignificant they may seem at the moment, your efforts matter and are incredibly valuable to you and your loved one. Recognizing the importance of the small things you do every day can help you avoid burnout and give you the confidence to carry on.
Second, focus on the things you can control. The quickest way to discouragement is to try to fix your loved one's condition. We can take small steps in improving the quality of life of the ones we love but we can't wish or force an ailment away. Instead of focusing on things you can't change, make note of achievable goals you can set and the steps you can take today to meet them.
Remember Your Needs
When facing the new and challenging responsibilities that come with your role as a caregiver, it's important to remember to take care of yourself. Both you and your loved ones suffer when you neglect your own needs.
Maintain personal relationships so you can have others to lean on, and make sure to schedule "me" time—take time to finish that great book you started, learn something new, or explore a new hobby or interest. You'll return to your daily routine reinvigorated and better equipped to meet the needs of those you care for.