Caring for the elderly or chronically ill can take its toll on even the most kind-hearted, generous people. They take on the responsibility out of love, or sometimes obligation, and can all too often find themselves in over their heads. Caregivers frequently get so wrapped up in taking care of others that they forget to take care of themselves. This can cause serious stress and if left unaddressed, it will likely lead to caregiver burnout. If you feel that you may be experiencing this condition, here are a few common warning signs to be on the lookout for:
You may find yourself withdrawing from social activities, begin feeling apathy towards things you once enjoyed, denying yourself basic physical and emotional care, and experiencing feelings of hopelessness.
You worry excessively about the future, have a strong sense of impending doom, and no longer have the ability to concentrate on the task at hand. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to heart palpitations and panic attacks.
Changes in Personality
You may become unusually angry over seemingly small occurrences, lashing out at friends and loved ones.
Weakened Immune System
Stress can wreak havoc on your immune system. You may find yourself getting sick more frequently or have illnesses that linger. Many times, stress will manifest with gastrointestinal issues such as indigestion, nausea, and cramping.
Change in Eating Habits
You may find yourself eating more frequently as a way to cope with the stress or making unhealthy food choices due to ease of preparation. Conversely, you may find yourself lacking an appetite altogether, especially if you are experiencing stomach discomfort due to the stressful nature of being a caregiver.
Change in Sleeping Habits
You may suffer from insomnia or may have trouble getting out of bed at all.
Now that you know the warning signs, you may be wondering what you can do to prevent caregiver burnout. If you are feeling overwhelmed, here are a few things you can try to reduce your stress levels:
Whether you are caring for the elderly or the chronically ill, there will be medications and limitations that you will need to familiarize yourself with. When you have a better understanding of their condition, you will be able to adjust your expectations best fit the situation.
Research Helpful Programs in Your Community
There are many local and national programs that are designed to provide respite care for your loved one so that you can have a bit of time for yourself. Don’t be afraid to use these programs to help you avoid burnout.
Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Often, the people close to you want to lend a hand but don’t know where to begin; it may be beneficial to ask for help with specific items or tasks.
Find a Support Group
Being a caregiver can be an isolating experience. Unless they have cared for a chronically ill or elderly person, your friends and loved ones will likely not understand the scope of what you’re dealing with. This is where caregiver support groups will be helpful. Though each situation is unique, other people who are in the same role will be able to understand and validate your feelings.
Take Care of Yourself
All too often, caregivers get so busy taking care of their loved ones that their own needs become neglected. Be sure to take care of your mental health by carving out some time for yourself and keep yourself in good physical health through a healthy diet and exercise.
Practice Stress-Reducing Techniques
Find a relaxation method that works for you. This can be anything you enjoy- meditation, yoga, reading a book, watching a movie you enjoy, having a cup of tea; anything that makes you feel like some of the weight has been lifted from your shoulders, even if just for a short time.
Maybe you’re not a caregiver yourself, but you have a friend or family member who is. If you would like to help to reduce their stress levels and avoid burnout, here are a few things you can do:
It may seem simple, but may times caregivers are most in need of a safe place to vent their frustrations and sorrow. Be sympathetic to their situation, even if you don’t fully understand it. They will appreciate your support.
Offer Specific Help
Instead of telling them that you’ll be there if they need you and waiting for them to come to you, make specific offers to them. For example, if you’re going to the grocery store, you could ask if they would like to make a list of things that you could bring to them, or if they have a dog, offer to take them for a walk.
Offer Your Time
Caregivers often get so wrapped up in caring for their loved ones that they neglect their own needs. Offer to sit with their charge so that they can get a shower, take a nap, or just take a moment for themselves.
There will be times when the caregiver in your life is too busy for phone calls or visits but will be comforted by e-mails or text messages reminding them that you care about them and are there for them in this difficult time.