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Nearly seven million people play the role of caregiver to a family member or loved one in the United States, providing assistance with activities of daily living such as eating, dressing, bathing, medication management and more. And while being a caregiver can be extremely rewarding, it can also be challenging. And over time, can lead to excess stress resulting in caregiver burnout.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Many caregivers find themselves unprepared for the amount of work and attention required to care for a loved one. Caregivers are often working full-time jobs, and many are also raising young children. Being able to successfully manage your time between all of these responsibilities can be overwhelming, leaving many to feel stretched too thin.
Caregiving tasks can be physically demanding and emotionally straining which can quickly lead to a condition known as caregiver burnout.
Combating Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout can greatly impact your health, leading to symptoms such as changes in sleep patterns, a decrease in appetite, feelings of emotional and physical exhaustion and withdrawal from family and friends. It can also impact your immune system, leaving you more prone to common illnesses such as cold and flu. And over time, caregiver burnout can even contribute to or exacerbate chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
If you’ve taken on the role of a family caregiver, here are some steps you can take to combat caregiver burnout:
- Take time for self-care each day. When you spend your time caring for others, it can be easy to forget about caring for yourself. That’s why it’s so important for caregivers to set aside time each day to do something for themselves. Taking just 15-30 minutes each day to do something you enjoy, such as reading, taking a walk, exercising or grabbing a quick lunch with a friend can help relieve stress and keep you refreshed for the rest of the day. Many caregivers find it useful to actually schedule time on their calendar for self-care. The important thing is to make it part of your new routine as a caregiver as soon as possible.
- Don’t skip out on doctor’s appointments. Many caregivers are busy taking their loved ones to appointments and making sure they have all their prescriptions, therapies, etc., but neglect to do the same for themselves. Make sure you, too, are keeping up with yearly physicals, dental visits, and regularly taking any prescribed medications. This can help ensure you stay healthy and that any health conditions you have remain under control.
- Build a support system. It’s not unusual for caregivers to feel like they have to do everything themselves. However, this certainly isn’t the case. Once you take on the role of a caregiver, it’s important to assemble a support system around you—trusted friends or other family members who can help share in the responsibilities when you need some extra support. Having this system in place can make it easier for you to take time away from your caregiving duties, which can greatly impact your ability to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
- Remember that you’re more than just a caregiver. In many cases, family caregivers begin to focus so much on providing the care their loved one needs that they forget they’re role as a family member. This is particularly common in children who find themselves caring for an aging parent. While taking on the role of caregiver is important, it’s also important to take time to build memories and enjoy this time with your loved one.
- Set realistic expectations. One of the biggest challenges caregivers face is admitting when their loved one’s care requirements are more than they are realistically able to handle. However, doing so if often the best thing you can do not only for your loved one, but for yourself.
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