Oct 04, 2019
Have you ever had the experience of walking into a dark room, flipping the light switch, and having the bulb suddenly sputter and blink out? It’s like that with caregivers sometimes, too. One moment you’re planning the meals, scheduling the medical appointments, doing the laundry, managing the household paperwork, and falling exhausted into bed when you can. Then, when it’s time to summon the strength to do it all again, you flip the switch and there’s nothing there – no energy, no willingness, no resiliency, no light. That’s caregiver burnout.
There are things you can do to avoid burnout or find a way through it if you’re already feeling dimmed.
Pay attention to your body’s signals. You know what tension feels like for you – maybe tight muscles in your shoulders, a stomachache, a clenched jaw. Some caregivers notice poor sleep, changes in appetite, or irritability. When symptoms like these show up, resist the urge to ignore them or explain them away. Instead, think of them as the flickering of the bulb telling you that change is needed.
Let others in. There’s no need to try to manage this alone. Professionals (caregiver consultants, therapists, clergy, social workers) are able to shine a flashlight on the situation and help you navigate out of a dark place. Other caregivers can share valuable peer-to-peer advice and support, glowing with understanding and solidarity. Friends and family members can relieve some strain by helping with tasks or being a pleasant diversion from time to time.
Take breaks. Sheer grit and determination can get in the way of noticing when burnout is near. Give yourself a chance to turn down the bright glare of caregiving for a while. Having some time to yourself makes a big difference in your overall stamina. Rest and time apart from the person you care for brings a whole new perspective. Help from friends, service providers, or community programs may allow you those breaks for a respite from your day-to-day responsibilities.
Honor your feelings and your effort. There is a reason you are exhausted. You are working hard. The emotional and physical demands of caregiving can be great, and often there is very little acknowledgement from others. But you know the significance of what you’re doing, and that’s a thought worth cherishing.
If you want to take steps to avoid caregiver burnout, or need some help finding your way back to brightness, FamilyMeans is here for you. You can reach our Caregiving & Aging staff at 651-439-4840 or learn more here.
Written by Beth Wiggins, FamilyMeans Director of Caregiving & Aging