Caring for a loved one can be a gratifying endeavor, but can also be a long-term and challenging stressor. Stress in caring for a loved one can build over the years and cause one to question the ability to care for a family member whose symptoms might never improve. It is important to recognize when that level of stress has built up to a critical level and to be sure to reach out for support, take time off, and recharge, otherwise you may experience caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is defined as a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Developing caregiver burnout is a serious concern for the caregiver and the loved one in their care.
A caregiver experiencing burnout may show symptoms such as irritability, changes in appetite, shifts in sleeping patterns, depression, and/or withdrawing from friends and family members. While caregiver burnout can pose a serious problem for caregivers and their loved ones, there are ways to help avoid the problem or overcome it once it becomes present.
Woodland Ridge respects those who undertake caregiving responsibilities, but we also know it can be taxing on one’s physical, mental, and emotional status. That is why we would like to provide you with ten ways to prevent or overcome caregiver burnout.
1. Change Your Focus
As stress builds up, it can be easy to overlook the pressure and damage it is causing. It is essential to be proactive in realizing this is happening and shifting your focus to something else that distracts the mind for a little while. Changing focus can help rejuvenate the mind and make it healthy again. It can also help clear your thoughts so you can think positively and feel relief.
This task can be accomplished by setting time aside to do things that help distract you. For instance, walking through a park with your loved one can provide you both with fresh air and quality time amongst nature, which has been shown to offer many benefits to our health. Similarly, watching movies or television shows can help distract your brain and provide you with an easy and effective way to reduce stress and help improve your overall mental health. The key to changing your focus and maintaining that frame of mind is finding something that allows you to take a step back from caregiving.
2. Take Time for Yourself
Although you may think you do not need time for yourself, you do. Taking time for yourself is an extremely crucial thing to do, especially when you are feeling burned out. If you can’t make time for yourself to enjoy things you like to do, such as exercise, hang out with friends, etc. you will soon lose the ability to care for your loved one who needs your attention most.
It can be easy to neglect ourselves once we undertake the responsibilities of a caregiver, especially when most caregivers experience the feeling of guilt when they take time to themselves. Giving yourself a moment to evaluate your own needs and health is more than necessary to ensure you are in the right frame of mind and health to continue caring for your loved one.
3. Find Support
Finding support groups can be very helpful in relieving the stress from caregiver burnout. These groups are available in many different places. Support groups can help you learn how to cope with stress, frustration, exhaustion, and feel more like a needed and healthy person. Support professionals can help you gain an understanding from a different perspective and guide you back to a healthy mindset.
Finding support doesn’t necessarily require professionals either; it can be as simple as a trusted friend or a group of people who understand what you’re going through. An empathetic ear goes a long way to helping relieve stress, according to Sarah Townsend, an assistant professor at the USC Marshall School of Business. The study shows how discussing a pain point or a significant stressor in your life with someone experiencing similar emotions acts as a sort of emotional buffer that can help reduce stress and cortisol response levels (the primary stress hormone in the body).
We encourage you to check your local area for caregiver support groups or educational classes that can aid you in caring for your loved one.
4. Relax and Recharge
Relaxing and recharging is imperative to have a healthy mind and body. Exercising can help relieve feelings of stress. Some examples would be meditating, doing yoga, going for a run, or working out at the gym.
It can be challenging to find time for yourself, but if you’re beginning to experience caregiver burnout, it is important. Respite care services are a short-term senior care option that can place your loved one in the comfort of a community, like Woodland Ridge, while providing you with much-needed rest from your caregiving responsibilities.
This short-term senior care option can be utilized for a few hours, so you can run errands or treat yourself to some alone time; to a few weeks, where you can take a deserved vacation and feel confident that your loved one is being taken care of and is safe.
It is always helpful to socialize with loved ones, friends, family, or other adults in your community. Take time to have fun and be around other positive people. Don’t get yourself to a point where you are only working and caring for a loved one while not giving yourself time to get out and socialize.
Socialization is essential to our wellbeing, no matter what stage of life we are in. Having friends can be a means of finding outside support in your situation. According to psychologist Susan Pinker, “face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply […] shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.”
6. A Healthy Diet
Improving your diet is always a great way to improve your health, and can aid in preventing feelings of caregiver burnout. If you place fatty foods with little to no nutritional value in your body, you won’t get much energy or health from your meals. If you focus on foods that are rich in nutrients, minerals, and vitamins, you give your body and mind a fighting chance to avoid stress, anxiety, and depression. One study found that decreasing the intake of sugary foods and beverages resulted in a reduced chance of developing depression. Another study showed that when medical students increased their omega-3 fatty acid intake, they saw a 20% decrease in their anxiety.
Your diet is crucial to your physical and mental health. While a diet may not solve all problems, it can certainly help place you in a better frame of health and mind.
7. Meal Planning
While many caregivers want to have a healthier diet, they may find it difficult to cook, sit down, and enjoy a meal due to time constraints. Meal planning may be the solution to that problem. A common problem for family caregivers is finding the time, so some may opt into skipping meals on a frequent basis, which is bad for your health and may cause you to experience caregiver burnout.
Meal planning isn’t hard to start either; pick the meal you have the most trouble with and start from there. If you find it difficult to make breakfast in the morning, prepare your breakfast meal while you prepare dinner the night before. If you’re struggling to get started with meal planning, there are plenty of resources online that offer recipes, suggestions, and guides to help you begin meal planning.
8. Understand The Situation
Your loved one may be in a vulnerable place, and it is admirable of family caregivers to give so much time, effort, and devotion to the people they love. A common problem amongst the family caregiver community is a feeling of guilt or unrealistic expectations. Supporting your loved one can certainly help with their overall health, but it’s important to understand their medical situation fully. If you do not see the results you hoped to, you will know it’s due to the nature of their condition and not because of the level of care you are providing.
If your loved one has a form of dementia, they may be prone to mood shifts. If you begin to feel overwhelmed or undervalued for whatever reason, take a moment to yourself, and place value on the actions you have taken to help your loved one. Sometimes we have to be our biggest supporters and have to help ourselves see what we’re doing right as opposed to dwelling on what went “wrong.”
9. Be Open to Help
Taking care of a loved one is no easy task. It can evolve as the care goes on, and it may include things that you’re not familiar with. Ask family and friends for help or support if needed, even if it’s with small tasks like grocery shopping. Taking anything off your workload can drastically help your care experience.
While you take care of the medical side of things, see if someone can assist you with errands or the financial side of the situation, everything does not have to rest on your shoulders, and any support can help.
10. Stay Positive
The most important way to prevent caregiver burnout is to stay positive. It is easy to become depressed due to the stress of feeling like it is never-ending. You have to keep your mind sharp and remain positive instead of dwelling on things you can not do. It is alright every once in a while to praise yourself for the hard work you do, which helps keep yourself positive as well. Caregiver burnout is something that many people feel and go through at some point. There are several different ways and routines in dealing with this burnout and how to overcome the stress it causes.
Remember to be around people that care about you, set goals, and always make time for yourself. If you need support or time away from your caregiving responsibilities, Woodland Ridge’s respite care services are available to help you and your loved one.
Our community, located in Smyrna, Georgia, strives to be the assisted living provider of choice, and inspire and nurture each senior we serve. Our respite care services can allow your loved one to experience a genuine community while you seek the rest and relaxation that you deserve. These respite care services can be utilized for a few hours to a few weeks, giving you the ability to recharge with peace of mind in knowing that your loved one is in good hands.