Caregiver Burnout and Strain
Taking care of a loved one diagnosed with cancer is certainly an act of love and compassion that we do, not only out of necessity, but also because of a commitment to the well-being of our loved one. Caregivers act as nurses, companions and cheerleaders for the one going through treatment. Our friends and family may not recognize the time and sacrifice involved in caring for someone, especially one who is experiencing challenging treatments and complicated health conditions. Even in the best of situations, caregivers will admit that it can take a toll on their own physical and mental health. Often, you’ve sacrificed work hours, hobbies and free time, limited your social interactions, and essentially put your life on the backburner to dedicate yourself to caregiving. While it is the most important work you can do, it can be taxing on you as well.
So how do you continue to care for your loved one with a positive attitude, while making sure that you don’t get lost along the way? How do you avoid slipping into a state of isolation and burnout? Often we regard taking a break as selfish, but let me assure you, it is NOT! Let’s redefine selfish as self-care and realize that it’s essential to being a successful caregiver. If you’ve dedicated 24 hours a day to caregiving, its time to carve out a few moments to connect with you own needs. Remember when traveling on an airplane, the flight attendant states that, in the event of cabin decompression, you should secure the air mask to yourself before helping others. It simply means that if you can’t breathe, you won’t be able to help others. As a caregiver, this is a reminder to make sure your needs are met too.
You’ve probably heard dozens of well intentioned friends offer statements like, “Call me if you need anything”, or “Take care of yourself”. How, you might ask, do I do these things while being consumed with caregiver duties? Let’s explore ways you can incorporate self-care into your caregiving routine.
*Remember to keep to a routine, but allow for lots of flexibility. While structure is helpful, strict adherence to a schedule can become a stressor during unpredictable days. Keep your to-do list short and manageable. Don’t expect to get everything done, and be forgiving of yourself for what carries over to another day.
*Remember to eat nutritious foods to sustain your energy and good health. Keep a stock of healthy snacks to turn to for a quick boost, like nuts, raw veggies, and fresh fruit. Limit excess caffeine, processed foods and sugar.
*Don’t forget about the power of exercise, even in small doses. Exercise has been proven to improve mood, sleep, energy, and overall well-being. Even if it’s a 10-minute walk around the block, movement will do you good! Fresh air and sunshine provide the necessary, and often lacking, Vitamin D our systems need to function at optimum levels. Just being outside in the world can do much to improve your mood and energy.
* Take small breaks to feel gratitude for other parts of your life. Really enjoy the simple things, like a great cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset, or a kind word from a friend. Focusing on gratitude helps to keep us positive and refreshed.
*Stay connected to supportive friends. Ask for help, or accept help when offered. Most people genuinely want to help and feel honored that you would ask. It often draws us closer to friends when we can admit we need someone. Eventually, it will be your turn to return the favor, as we all need help sometime!
*Allow yourself to do things you like to do. If necessary, call in some reinforcements so that you can do something you enjoy. Taking even just a few minutes each day for yourself is restorative.
*Notice your feelings around this experience and don’t keep them bottled up. Find a trusted friend or a good support group. Know that it’s ok to feel frustrated, scared or depressed sometimes. Keep a journal and spend as little as 5-10 minutes a day exploring your feelings and reactions to this experience. Journaling and sharing feelings are a great way to lower your stress levels, and reduce depression and anxiety. It’s important to allow these feelings to surface, and have a place to vent them. Otherwise, they can become burdens, causing you negative reactions, and even sadness and anger.
*If you begin to notice unrelenting depression or anxiety in you or your loved one, speak to a medical profession for help.
Share with us your joys and concerns as a caregiver. Please include any tips you can share with others that have helped you to focus on your self-care.
Article written by:
Amy Menke, MA, Reg. Mental Health Counselor Intern, Life Coach
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