It is a praiseworthy job providing the utmost level of care, health, and safety to our aging population. Yet, it comes as no surprise that taking care of seniors runs the risk of caregivers putting their own well-being on the back burner. Pair that with fluctuating mandates and unsustainable burdens brought on by the pandemic, and we’re left with unprecedented numbers of caregiver burnout. As a result, unfortunate consequences can occur when they neglect their own needs, including lack of sleep, low energy, added stress on our personal relationships, and more.
Fortunately, our beloved caregivers – family members, senior living staff, social workers, nurses, and other care providers – can avoid falling into this trap by being aware of certain situations and signs.
Here are seven quick tips to help avoid caregiver burnout.
1. Give yourself permission to not be perfect.
Family and professional caregivers often feel they’re supposed to do it all– and do it perfectly. That they should already have all the answers to whatever comes their way. This way of thinking isn’t realistic in any facet of life, so be patient and kind to yourself, knowing you can only do so much. As a friend of mine says, “treat yourself like someone you love.”
2. Try to accept a situation – for what it is not.
Being a care partner brings unique challenges and joys. Accepting difficult changes for what they are not is different from accepting something ‘as it is’. What is it not? It is not what it used to be, what you want it to be, or what you wish it could be. Instead, it is only what it is in this very moment and nothing more.
In the case of dementia, it can be emotionally painful when a loved one is confused, combative, or may not remember you. It leaves caregivers feeling frustrated, angry, upset, or sad – a natural part of the grieving process.
Cut yourself some slack and know that you haven’t done anything wrong. Know that your loved one isn’t choosing to treat you in a manner that may come across as nasty or spiteful. Acceptance and understanding about what is happening to them will help you get through some of the toughest times.
3. Act on what you can control.
Unfortunately, some things in life are inevitable and can’t be prevented from happening. Aging is a natural progression. As a loved one ages they can experience a decrease in appetite and as a result, weight loss. Their bones weaken and their bodies become frail. Movement becomes difficult and muscle mass is depleted.
It is heart wrenching to witness the decline in our loved one’s health, however it is a natural process of aging that is beyond our control. Most seniors who require assistance cannot always make a full recovery, even with their family members’ total devotion. For example, dementia can’t be “fixed.” These are everyday things that caregivers wish to remedy for our loved ones, but driving ourselves into the ground to find solutions is not a sustainable approach to caregiving.
4. Find time alone – and for something that sparks joy for YOU.
We could all benefit from having time to ourselves, an opportunity to step back, relax, reflect and recharge. It is commonplace for caregivers to give so much of their time caring for others, yet they allow themselves so little. It is near impossible to find free time, or simply time alone. If they do, they are often riddled with guilt.
Start with making time for yourself by carving out an open space on the calendar and sticking to it. It doesn’t have to be a complete hiatus from everything. Five minutes in the sun, 10 minutes with your favorite pet, an ice cream cone while sitting on a park bench. As little as a few minutes a day can have a significant effect on the body and mind’s wellbeing.
5. Ask for backup!
When someone takes on too much and becomes overwhelmed, it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. On the contrary, asking for help from professionals and resources available to you is a smart move. They exist for a reason and provide the services they offer in the hopes to take some of the load off other people’s shoulders.
We can’t always do everything ourselves. Go ahead and ask for backup when needed! Experience the empowerment that comes with it. Don’t feel the least bit ashamed to reach out. Who knows, you may find there are services and means for support you never knew of or considered before.
6. Remind yourself the person you love did not choose the illness or disability that they're having to live with.
It is only natural to feel angry, frustrated, exhausted, alone, or sad when an aging loved one becomes physically and/or cognitively challenged. We wish we could alleviate their struggles and pain. Sadly, one thing holds true in aging: illness and decline in the elderly’s health have the upper hand despite our best efforts.
Denial often plays a significant role in us refusing not to see what is happening or unfolding right before our eyes. The fear of addressing the elephant in the room will make it more of a reality. One of the most painful realizations for a family caregiver is that there is no fixing what a loved one is going through. You aren’t expected to rescue anyone. You can offer your company, time and support.
7. Prioritize love over all else.
The elderly deserve the highest quality of assistance we can provide. Caregivers do their best work when they make their mental and physical health a priority. Loving ourselves means taking care of ourselves. It’s of utmost importance if we want to care for someone else in the best way possible.
A caregivers’ ultimate gift is simply love. Love is more powerful than we know. Give more love and allow more love in. Like any relationship, caregiving is an emotional journey, but we can only give our best when we give ourselves the self-care we deserve.
“The only thing we never get enough of is love; and the only thing we never give enough of is love.”- Henry Miller