Taking care of a loved one is a selfless act that can bring many rewards to both parties, but it also can take a toll on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Balancing the care of another person on top of your own life and responsibilities can be overwhelming, to the point where both you and the person you’re caring for will ultimately pay the price, whether it’s mismanaged caregiving or to the detriment of your own health. If you recognize this in yourself, you’re suffering from what is known as caregiver burnout.
According to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report, more than 45 million adults in North America are taking care of an adult loved one.
In the same report, 36% of family caregivers characterize their situation as highly stressful.
Often, those caring for others are so busy juggling the demands on their time, finances, and privacy, they forget to take care of their own emotional and physical health. Recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout can also help you to avoid it. Symptoms include overwhelming fatigue, lack of energy, withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities, poor self-care, lowered resistance to illness, erratic sleep schedule, weight loss or gain, impatience and irritability, the feeling that your life is completely focused on caregiving with little fulfillment, hopelessness, anxiety, and depression.
It’s important to seek help before caregiving becomes this overwhelming. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid caregiver burnout:
- Seek help before you burnout—whether it’s talking to a trusted friend or neighbor, or finding support with your caregiving responsibilities.
- Recognize that you have limits and that you need to take time out for yourself, whether that’s a daily jog, gardening, reading, or pursuing a favorite hobby. Taking at least an hour to yourself each day is an important part of self-care. You should also make sure to pamper yourself every now and then.
- Talk to a therapist or mental health professional. You can also find support in caregiving support groups, many of which can be found online.
- Take care of your health through proper diet, exercise, and rest.
Finally, educating yourself on the disease and accepting the outcome, especially if it is a progressive illness, are also parts of managing your own mental health while taking care of a loved one. And if you’re already suffering from caregiver burnout, resources like home health care services and caregiver support services can offer relief from your caregiving duties so that you can recover your health and wellness. You can also enlist friends and family to help through meal preparation, running errands, or divide caregiving tasks between family members.
The secret to avoiding caregiver burnout really is to take care of yourself. This way, you can find fulfillment in the care you provide your loved one and, most importantly, enjoy your life.