You need to take care of you
Being a caregiver can be a rewarding yet stressful role which is why caregivers are at a high risk of burnout, says psychologist Dr Shane G. Owens. Due to the demanding and never-ending nature of the role, caregivers are at risk for high levels of stress, frustration, anxiety, exhaustion, anger, depression, and increased use of alcohol or other substances. What’s more, caregivers may have a reduced immune response, poor physical health and other chronic conditions, and they may neglect their own care and have a higher mortality risk than other people the same age who are not caregivers, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
One of the best things you can do for the person you taking care of is to take care of yourself, he says. Easier said than done? Start with these expert tips for reducing your burnout.
Accept difficult feelings
There’s a popular stereotype that caregivers must be cheerful, loving and self-sacrificing at all times and if you’re not then you’re doing it wrong. You may even be shamed by others if you try to voice negative feelings. “I don’t know how this started but it’s time to let this go – taking care of another human being is incredibly difficult,” says Dr Jennifer Wolkin, a clinical neuropsychologist and assistant professor of psychology at NYU. You might feel helpless, sad, lonely, left out, upset, or even angry. “Those feelings are valid and you shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed for feeling that way,” she says. Instead of letting difficult emotions fester, allow yourself to feel them and vent about them to someone who can be understanding and compassionate.
Make a list of back-up caregivers
No matter how much you love someone, you simply cannot be expected to be their only caregiver, Dr Wolkin says. Make a list of people you can call to come and sit with your loved one, take over some of their care, or take them out for the day so you can get a break, she says. Consider asking friends, siblings, children, extended relatives, neighbours or others to be your backup – they may jump at the opportunity to spend some time with someone they care about while giving you a break. It’s okay to ask for help!