If you have spent any part of your life as an athlete or in an aerobics or yoga class, you know that by the time a person actually feels thirsty, their hydration is already depleted. Once it’s depleted, it takes the body more time to “catch up” to its former state of hydration.
Picture the same thing happening with a caregiver as it relates to stress. By the time a caregiver is feeling stress, the stress has already taken its toll and it almost seems impossible for the caregiver to go back to their former calm and happy self.
Caregivers are GIVERS; that’s what makes caregivers do what they do. This personality trait can become a problem when it’s time for a caregiver to ask for help. Caregivers often use up all their inner resources long before asking for assistance. You know that a car can’t run when it’s out of gas and neither can you.
Recognizing caregiver burnout
Have you ever been burned out on your job? You hate to go to work; you hate, hate, HATE Mondays (did you know that a large majority of heart attacks happen on Sunday nights? That’s NOT coincidental.) You hate the thought of walking out the door, even hate the thought of getting up in the morning. You get disillusioned with the entire process and look for ways to get out. You may even get physically ill.
Most of us have experienced some sort of job burnout at one point in our lives. It requires time to step back from the situation and look at it from another perspective. If left unexamined, it may require intervention to get out of that downward spiral. It may also require a job or career change.
Caregiving is no different. If you are the primary caregiver for someone, it means that you are in contact day-in and day-out with that person and the frustrations that it involves. If you have responsibilities outside of caregiving, the stress is multiplied.
Here are a few signals that may require your attention:
* Feelings of depression
* Feelings of resentment towards your loved one
* Lack of empathy or patience with your loved one
* Too much sleep
* Physical maladies (headache, stomach pain, muscle tension, heart palpitations, etc.)
* Problems on your job
* Gaining or losing weight
These are just a few of the symptoms of caregiver burnout.
Caregivers are notorious for thinking that asking for help is a sign of weakness and that they can handle it all by themselves. Many times, they are secretly wishing that someone would just come in and help without being asked. When that doesn’t happen, they can begin to become angry (usually with other family members who are [sometimes] clueless as to the caregiver’s needs).
Asking for help – Do it!
There are resources at your disposal. Begin by asking other family members to help. They may actually say “yes”. And IF they say “yes”, they will quickly learn how much work is actually involved in caregiving.
Often friends and neighbors want to be of help. I’ve mentioned this before: place a pen and pad of paper by your phone with a list of things that people can do to help you. When someone calls and asks how they can be of assistance, a list of items will be there for you to share with them. It’s probably best not to turn over your entire list to them though.:)
Check out adult day care centers, part-time home care from a reputable senior companion agency, county nursing services, short-term respite care from a local assisted living facility, adult social services programs, Area Agency on Aging services, your local Alzheimer’s Association Organization, as well as senior drop-in centers and other community-based activities. Any break you can get on a regular basis will help your stress level drop, as well as provide a needed break for your loved one, too. (We sometimes forget that they may be just as tired of us as we are of them.)
Planning for burnout is the first step to preventing it. Don’t wait until the symptoms become overwhelming. Devise a regularly scheduled stress-reducer for yourself as well as your loved one. Routinely take advantage of outside help. Don’t wait for someone to notice that you are stressed out before you get help. Be proactive: ask for help and avoid getting burned out.
Shelley Webb has been a registered nurse for almost 30 years, with experience in the fields of neonatal intensive care, dialysis, case management and eldercare. When her father came to live with her in 2005, the advantages of her medical experience became clear. Due to his dementia and congestive heart failure, her father was not able to care for himself alone any longer and so she took over these duties.
Having experienced the helplessness, frustration, overwhelm and even loneliness that caregiving for an aging parent brings, Shelley is well aware of the emotional and educational support that caregivers need and so she began The Intentional Caregiver web site. With its weekly newsletter, daily news updates and monthly audio interviews of experts in eldercare and supporting services, Shelley strives to encourage and educate caregivers so that they can be empowered to provide the best possible care for themselves while caring for their aging loved one(s).