Caregiver burnout is just a fancy term for exhaustion

Are there moments when caregiving makes you want to scream?

Any number of things related to caring for your aging parent can cause you to feel like you’re at the end of the proverbial rope including:

  • your relationship with your parent
  • elements of your work life/family life which are separate from, but inextricably linked to, your caregiving
  • the myriad experiences inside the elder care maze

But here’s where things get a bit dicey: While these moments are common, they’re also almost always a sign of caregiver burnout and therefore something you want to pay attention to.

“Caregiver burnout” is just a fancy term for exhaustion

Before I launch into tips on how to avoid burnout let me back up a minute and be clear about the feelings I’m referring to.

Caregiver burnout is exhaustion, yes, but not the kind of exhaustion that sets in after a day or two of working hard and goes away with a few hot baths and/or a night or two of good sleep. It’s much deeper than that and can impact you in multiple ways simultaneously including physically, emotionally and mentally.  Over time it can affect your mood and make you feel hopeless too.

So where does this feeling come from and what can be done to avoid it?

Well now we’ve hit the nitty-gritty of this article.  First, here’s my unabashed theory on how it starts:

Caregiver burnout creeps in when family caregivers forget about their own needs in order to care for their loved one and their minds and bodies decide to remind them about themselves.

Think about that for a minute.  Have you ever felt your own body whisper to you to pay attention?  Maybe you didn’t listen and the whisper became a shout which made you stop whether you wanted to or not.

If you’re with me so far then it should be easy to see that avoiding caregiver burnout really comes down to being attentive to yourself and to the things that are important to you and for you. First and foremost you need to learn to really listen to yourself and to what your body/mind are telling you is needed.  Then commit to doing the following which will help cut down on the physical, emotional and mental force of caregiver-related stress:

1. See your doctor regularly. Those who provide care to their aging parents are notorious for missing their doctors’ appointments. The first to fall off are usually the podiatrists’ appointments, then the dentists’ appointments, then the yearly physicals at the primary care providers’ offices.  Don’t do this.  Really.  Your health is the most valuable thing you have and you deserve to be well.  Let me repeat that: You deserve to be well.  So make those appointments and stick to them no matter what.

2. Maintain your sanity. I know, easier said than done.  What I’m really talking about here though, is a good preventative plan which includes seeking support from others who understand what you’re going through.  Maybe you find that kind of support in a hair salon and maybe you find it in a church group.  It doesn’t matter where, so long as you find a place to go where you can rest your mind and receive some comfort.

Equally important in maintaining your sanity is to learn to say no.  It isn’t easy, but I’m convinced that it’s essential if you’re going to avoid caregiver burnout.  In case you need reminding, you are one person with one set of arms and legs and one 24-hour day in which to use them.  There’s only so much you can do and unfortunately, you’re the only one who can say when enough is enough.

3. Save as much of your money as you can. I could see this suggestion being a little controversial, but I’m okay with that because I think it’s critical. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I would never suggest that you not help your parents if they need help financially and if you are able.  But you may not have money to give and if that’s the case, I’m here to say that it’s okay.  Do what you can with what you have and believe that you deserve to preserve what you’ll need for the future.

Maria Basso Lipani is a social worker who blogs at Geriatric Care Management.

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