Today’s caregivers face numerous challenges that often leave them feeling drained physically, mentally, and emotionally. Overlapping demands from work, home, and their aging loved one all competing for their attention are a common source of stress and frustration. Left unaddressed, these feelings can quickly lead to caregiver burnout. Learning to spot the early signs of stress, as well as healthy ways to respond, is important for every caregiver. Read on to learn more about caregiver burnout, and simple tips to help prevent it.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
The harmful effects of chronic stress include increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Caregiver burnout is the result of prolonged exposure to the stressors associated with being a caregiver. Symptoms of burnout can include irritability, fatigue, weight gain, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, and social isolation.
Six Self-Care Tips for Caregivers
If you are a caregiver, it may seem counter-intuitive to focus on your own needs first. Assessing your pain points and learning how to address them, will enable you to provide the best care for your parent, or other loved one. Everyone is unique, so not every tip or strategy mentioned will be successful – be patient, but persistent, to find what works best for you. Focus on strategies that help you feel refreshed and recharged. Here are six tips to help you get started:
Practice breathing. Why should you practice something your body does automatically? Simple – most of us are not breathing as well as we could. Learning to breathe deeply with correct posture and focus can help trigger your body’s relaxation response. Deep breathing has also been shown to reduce anxiety, improve cognitive function, and encourage positive thoughts. There are numerous apps, including Headspace, that offer deep breathing exercises.
Nourish your body. Swinging through the drive-thru for a quick meal while you are on the go seems like a simple solution. Research has shown that processed foods high in refined sugars and fats can increase inflammation in the body – something to avoid when you are trying to cope with stress. Ensuring that you are properly fueling throughout the day with nutrient-dense food -- like fresh fruit, veggies, and whole grains -- is vital for caregivers. Meal planning and prepping does not have to be complicated – here are some simple ideas to get started.
Rest. Most adults require between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night – this is especially true for caregivers. Sleep is critical to repairing muscle, synthesizing hormones, and consolidating memories. Chronic sleep deprivation can increase your risk for multiple health issues, including high blood pressure, depression, and weight gain. If you are struggling with getting a good night’s sleep, the Sleep Foundation has some tips that can help.
Exercise. Along with eating right and getting enough sleep, daily exercise plays an important role in maintaining good health. Regular exercise not only lowers stress, but also decreases your risk for chronic illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Because it also boosts endorphin production, exercise can also improve your mood (think runner’s high). Before you get started, be sure to consult your doctor first.
Connect with others. Serving as your loved one’s caregiver can be a lonely endeavor. Feeling as though no one understands your situation, or the challenges you face, can cause you to become isolated and socially withdrawn. In addition to staying connected with your immediate circle of friends, seek out support groups for caregivers in your area. Spending time with others who not only understand what you are going through, but can provide helpful advice, can be a big stress reliever.
Delegate. Be realistic with the amount of time and energy you have available. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Divvy up responsibilities – paying bills, making doctor’s appointments, etc., with your siblings, if possible. Clearly communicate what is needed and any deadlines associated with each task. Employ time management strategies to maximize your time, and eliminate waste.
There are numerous ways to manage with the stress associated with caring for an older loved one. Experiment until you find a combination that works best for you and your situation. Remember -- addressing your own needs will position you to provide the best care possible – now and in the future.
Additional Resources for Caregivers
For additional caregiver tips and resources, visit The Bristal’s blog.