Caring for someone with a health condition or serious illness is very challenging. Even more challenging can be caring for yourself while caregiving for another person.
It seems like we have a natural instinct to do whatever it takes to care for our loved ones. We get a surge of energy that keeps our bodies going and going, all the while managing multiple tasks at once. In the beginning, that rush of energy seems almost endless, as if we could do this caregiving forever without a problem. However, that stress hormone driven instinct only lasts so long (for survival purposes). It is only meant to help us through brief intense circumstances – not long-term, chronic stress. Eventually, the energy dissipates and the grief and stress hit the surface, often pushing us past our limit into a state of burnout.
Here are some helpful tips to prevent burnout from occurring.
1. Set a pace for yourself. This is not a race, nor do you have super powers. Allow yourself to recognize your limitations. Do not try to fight them or surpass them. Take one task at a time. Do not try to overload yourself with work. Making lists or charts can be very helpful for you to see a schedule, which can prevent overload from occurring.
2. Find safe people with whom you feel comfortable confiding. Try not to be afraid to talk about how you are feeling. It is normal to feel a range of emotions: anger, fear, worry, resentment, and guilt are common. An emotional release will allow you to feel mentally and physically better.
3. Just as you are caring for someone, allow others to care for you. This can help you not only have a bit of downtime, but it also puts “fuel” back in your own “tank.” We have to have care ourselves in order to give it away.
4. Do some mindless tasks – it actually can boost your mood! Focus on activities that require minimum planning but make you feel happy and recharged.
5. Eating right is key. It can be difficult to do this in the midst of caregiving: however, good nutrition keeps your mind/body working well. You can’t be of help to another if youw own body is breaking down. Consider preparing meals ahead of time or making big batches and freezing a portion for later, as well as asking others for help (see #3).
6. Find time for exercise, even a little. In addition to eating well, exercise helps you cope with stress, combat fatigue, and increases your energy. Find little ways to fit it in (ex: taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking at the far end of the lot, etc).
Integrating these actions will create a healthier and more rewarding caregiving experience. You have a beautiful gift. Allow yourself to use that gift in the way most beneficial to you, as well as your loved one.
~ Heather Nickrand, MA