By Kurt Kazanowski
It takes a strong and capable person to care for those in need. Being the primary caregiver for a loved one with a serious medical condition is hard, and takes a toll on you. The good news is there are things caregivers can do to help them provide the best care possible, make it through the tough times, and avoid caregiver burnout.
The first and most important step: Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Here are 10 more things you can do to avoid caregiver burnout.
- Find Support. It is very helpful to join a caregiver’s support group and get around other people who are in the same situation as you. Don’t internalize your struggles because there are many people out there feeling just like you. You might feel like you are the only one in the world in this situation, but the reality is there are many other individuals who are the primary caregiver for a loved one just like you.
- Switch your focus. Do something different, change your routine – even if it’s just for a few minutes. This will help you return to what you were doing with a fresh perspective. If you have a hobby or interest that you are passionate about, spend time involved in it. If you are being the caregiver 24/7, you are going to feel stressed out and exhausted.
- Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Set your ego aside and just ask. Once you do it the first time it is much easier from then on out. Make a list of things you need and concrete ways people can assist you. When people ask what they can do, have them choose from the list. This eliminates the overwhelming feeling of too many choices.
- Avoid isolation. Spend time with friends, immerse yourself in an activity, take a class or become active in your community. Do not become a hermit and sit inside all day. You become depressed when you isolate your social interactions.
- Take care of your needs. Eat right, exercise, get enough rest, get regular checkups at the doctor and take time for yourself. Spend time alone to enjoy yourself and time with friends and family. If you’re not taking care of your own needs, you’re not in a position to care for others.
- Express your feelings. Feelings of anger, depression and sadness are commonly experienced by caregivers. Talk about these feelings with a friend, relative, support group or therapist. Do not bottle up your feelings and think you are ‘being strong.’ Strength is shown through being honest about how you feel.
- Don’t self-medicate. Drugs, alcohol and junk food are substances that do not help to make the situation any better. See a therapist or join a support group to work on issues, instead of ignoring them. Eating well and exercising are easy ways to help you feel better.
- Show yourself some love. Remember that you are doing the best you can. Nobody is perfect or can do everything. Accept assistance if offered and stay positive. Soothe yourself with prayer, meditation, repeating positive affirmations or anything else to remind you that you are a wonderful person.
- Seek professional guidance. Consult with trained professionals who have the knowledge and experience with aging issues to help make things easier for you. Their guidance can help alleviate your stress level. Remember, you are not in this alone.
- Don’t forget about you. It can’t be said enough: Taking care of yourself first will leave you with the energy needed to be a much more effective caregiver, which is something positive and healthy for your loved one as well. Taking care of you, is taking care of them.
Being a caregiver is challenging and stress can manifest in unfortunate ways. Don’t bury your emotions and experiences. It is best to experience them fully and share your story with a supportive group of individuals in a similar situation. Burnout is far too common among caregivers, but if you put your needs first, you will be more help to your loved one. Enjoy life and don’t be too high on your horse to ask for help. There is so much support available to you, so be sure to take advantage of it.
Kurt Kazanowski MS, RN, CHE, is the author of A Son’s Journey: Taking Care of Mom and Dad, and is senior care, home care, and hospice expert.
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