November is National Family Caregivers Month. It is a time to honor those who provide care to ailing loved ones, and to remind caregivers about the importance of caring for themselves.
Caregivers often devote so much time and energy to caring for a loved one that they fall victim to what is known as caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout can be defined as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that may lead to a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Sadly, many caregivers actually feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than focusing all of their energy on caring for their loved one.
If you are serving as the family caregiver, you must understand the difficulty of your role and recognize the signs that you may be approaching burnout, which include:
• Feeling exhausted most of the time, even after a full night’s sleep
• Feeling like the most important thing in your life is caregiving but you don’t get any satisfaction from it
• Finding it virtually impossible to simply relax
• Becoming increasingly impatient with the loved one for whom you are providing care
• Frequently feeling helpless, and sometimes, even hopeless
If you are experiencing feelings like these, and you didn’t feel this way until you began serving as family caregiver, you may be approaching burnout.
So, what can you do about it? First, you must understand that your feelings are not unusual. Caregiver burnout is much more common than you might think. This should come as no surprise given that 40 million Americans provide unpaid care to another adult and providing adequate care requires a tremendous amount of time and energy.
Here are some steps you can take if you believe you might be suffering from caregiver burnout:
• Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s illness and how to care for it. The more you know, the more effective you’ll be and the better you’ll feel about your efforts
• Recognize your limits. This involves taking a more realistic approach to how much time and effort you can give your loved one. Then, be sure to express those limits to doctors and other family members
• Learn to accept how you feel about the responsibilities of being a caregiver. Anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, grief—all of these emotions and more are commonly experienced by caregivers
• Talk to people about your feelings. Keeping your emotions bottled up doesn’t do you or the person you are caring for any good. Confiding in friends and family members can provide a sense of relief and help you overcome feelings of isolation
• Seek support from other caregivers. Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you
• Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one
• Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in a complicated situation
Support is available from people who understand what you are going through. You’ll find support groups within the community online, in the phone book, through your physician, and from organizations associated with the health problem of the loved one under your care. Good places to start are your local chapter of AARP and agencies such as Family Caregiver Alliance.