The following is a guest post by Kathy N. Johnson, PhD, CMC. Dr Johnson is a Certified Geriatric Care Manager, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Home Care Assistance. She holds a Doctorate in Psychology from the Illinois Institute of Technology.  Kathy co-authored the book, Happy to 102: The Best Kept Secrets to a Long and Happy Life, based on the ground breaking Okinawa Centenarian Study, which spells out precisely what it takes to delay or escape Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases, as well as how to slow the aging process.

By Dr. Kathy Johnson. Family members who provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aging parent make up almost 30% of the U.S. population. The majority are women, ages 40-65, and they spend an average of 20 hours per week in hands-on care giving. Family caregivers are often adult daughters who are also caring for children and juggling job responsibilities, household chores, and the needs of a spouse.

If you are in this “sandwich generation,” the pressure to do it all makes you particularly vulnerable to stress. Research has shown that nearly 75% of caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should; 63% have poor eating habits; and 58% indicate that their exercise habits are disrupted by care-giving responsibilities. 

Being a family caregiver is never easy. However, many women feel so overworked and unappreciated that they are unsure about their ability to continue being a caregiver. The daily emotional and physical demands of the care-giving process often lead to feelings of burnout.

The Signs of Burnout

Psychologists define burnout as “a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress.” Burnout isn’t as obvious as getting a sore throat or the flu, and family caregivers often deny or are oblivious to the signs of burnout. Sometimes burnout is noticed first by other family members and friends around you. Pay attention to these warning signs:

  • Feeling pessimistic and dissatisfied
  • Decreased energy or emotional exhaustion
  • Withdrawing from friends or social interactions
  • Loss of interest in work or enjoyable activities
  • Increased use of alcohol or medication to relax
  • Becoming impatient, irritable, or argumentative
  • Lowered resistance to illness

Preventing Burnout

The most important step that you can take to combat burnout is to closely monitor your stress level. A high stress level lowers resistance to disease and leads to fatigue, depression and eventually, burnout. The following strategies can help: 

  • Find a caregiver support group. Most communities have services or groups where you can confide in others who are also caregivers and receive emotional support. Call your local senior center, area Agency on Aging, hospital senior services, physician or church. If you can’t leave the house, search the Internet for support groups.
  • Set reasonable limits. You can’t be a successful caregiver if you give until there is nothing left. Be realistic about how much time and energy you can devote to care giving and know when to stop. Prioritize tasks and only do those that really have to be done. Whatever condition or problems your loved one has, realize that you can’t cure it or control it any more than you can meet every need.
  • Take care of your health. You owe it to yourself to make time for your own heath. Take a walk or do some form of regular exercise at least 20 minutes, two or three times a week. Be sure to eat a variety of foods, including the 7 super foods—blueberries, dark chocolate, fish, nuts, eggs, vegetables and flax seed. Also make sure to get at least six to eight hours of sleep per night.
  • Incorporate joy into your life. Do things you enjoy on a daily basis. Listen to music, garden, cook, go see a movie, or just walk the dog. Think about activities you’ve done in the past that you found enjoyable, and find pleasure in little things in life.
  • Start a journal. Writing is a great way to express emotion and regain perspective. Caregivers often feel conflicting emotions. Write down what you feel and accept the good and the bad. You might even start your own care-giving blog.
  • Schedule pampering time. Reward yourself by taking breaks from your care-giving routine. Call your local spa for a massage or manicure. Soak in a warm bath. Go to the mall and buy something new. Find an activity that will rejuvenate your energy.
  • Reach out for help. There are a many resources for help with care-giving responsibilities. Call a friend, family member, or even a volunteer from a senior center or church and suggest specific things that they can do to help you. You can also hire a caregiver from a reputable home care agency, like Home Care Assistance, to provide respite care so that you can recharge.

Being an effective caregiver means learning how to take care of yourself so that you can provide healthy support and love to others. These strategies will help you be a better caregiver and avoid the debilitating effects of burnout.

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One Response to “Preventing Burnout in Family Caregivers”

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