(Self) Caring for Caregivers
According to the CDC, about one in four adults act as informal or unpaid caregivers for someone with a long-term illness or disability. By 2030, approximately 71 million people will be 65 years or older, so the need for caregivers will only increase.
There are many different fulfilling benefits to being a caregiver. For example, many people enjoy having a meaningful purpose, feeling needed and useful, developing extended friendships and networks, and appreciating learning about life as well as themselves and others. Caregiving at the end of life can also provide an opportunity for expressing gratitude and love while finding closure.
But taking care of a loved one involves a high amount of stress and there is a real possibility of burnout. Burnout is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion that can’t be easily fixed. In fact, it can hurt the caregivers’ own health; in a report by the AARP, 20% of caregivers say that caregiving has made their own health worse. Burnout can be prevented or mitigated with some self-care even if it isn’t always avoidable.
Here are some suggestions to take care of yourself or to support other caregivers.
Eat healthy, exercise, and get rest. While comfort foods are occasionally good, a well-balanced diet will support your own health. Exercise, too, can help clear the head and invigorate the body; a quick 20-minute walk can do the trick. And prioritize rest; in addition to a good night’s sleep, build in times for naps or “doing nothing.”
Establish limits and have clear expectations. Be honest about what each person is willing and capable of doing. When creating to-do lists, make sure they are realistic. When possible, let others do the household chores, prepare meals, care for children, or run errands. Communicate frequently with everyone on the care team—from family and friends to the medical providers.
Take a break. Getting away for short and long periods of time is important to regain self-identity. Do new and established activities that bring joy. Relax by listening to music, meditating, or getting a massage.
Recognize the signs of burnout. Burnout looks different for everyone. Symptoms typically include exhaustion, frustration, being easily angered, forgetfulness, disinterest, anxiety, and helplessness. It’s especially important to seek help from a healthcare provider or mental health professionals if there are signs of depression, excessive alcohol or drug use, or fear of hurting oneself or one’s loved ones.
Preventing burnout helps everyone in the caregiving circle, not just the caregiver. After all, when the caregiver is mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy, then they can be more attentive, present, and compassionate.