Being a caregiver is one of the most difficult things you will ever do. It is difficult physically, emotionally and mentally. Caring for a senior loved one who may be frail or losing their cognitive abilities is heart-wrenching, and the exhaustion that comes with 24/7 care doesn’t make it any easier. If you are the caregiver of an aging loved one, here are 5 self-care habits you can practice to prevent caregiver burnout.
1. Don’t hide your feelings from yourself: You are going to experience a wide range of emotions as a caregiver, and not all of them will feel good. You may feel angry and resentful from time to time. Acknowledge this to yourself and give yourself a break, literally and figuratively speaking. Consider the underlying emotions and take steps to understand them, either on your own or with the help of a counselor, priest, minister or other resource. The most important thing is to realize that it is normal to feel these emotions!
2. Set Realistic Goals: As a caregiver, you need to set realistic goals for yourself. You probably won’t be able to care for your loved one, your family, your job and run a marathon. Set small goals that you can achieve. This will help to avoid guilt and negativity. Instead of setting a goal of cleaning the entire house on Saturday, set a goal of cleaning the kitchen the bathroom. That is enough work for the weekend. Then you can accomplish the goal and feel satisfied that you did what you set out to do.
3. Do not engage in negative self-talk: Your job is hard enough as it is. Do not become your own worst enemy by talking negatively to yourself. You are a caregiver and you should be very proud of that fact. Not everyone can be a caregiver and still carry on all the responsibilities of daily life. Negative messages may also prevent you from getting the support you need. You may believe that even if you ask for help no one will step in. Positive messages will help you to ask for the support and help you need and deserve.
4. Practice Stress Management Techniques: Stress is your enemy. If you let stress run away with your physical and emotional health you will quickly experience burnout as a caregiver. Once you are burned out, there is little you can do except take a break from care giving duties. Most caregivers want to avoid that scenario, so the first step is to reduce stress in the first place.
Learn deep breathing techniques and practice them regularly. They reduce physical and mental stress and can be done anytime, anywhere – in the car, while sitting with your loved one, or while eating dinner.
Do what comforts you during the day. Take 5 or 10 minutes in the morning and afternoon to comfort yourself. It might be drinking your favorite tea, taking a brisk walk down the driveway, or smelling aromatherapy oils of your favorite scent.
These things will reduce your stress and calm your mind.
5. Maintain Your Own Health: You can reduce your chances of slipping into caregiver burnout if you keep your health strong. It depends upon your willingness to take common sense steps to good health.
Eat a balanced diet and regular meals that include fresh fruits and vegetables
Drink plenty of water
Walk whenever you can
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
See your doctor for regular check-ups. High blood pressure can sneak up on you and you may not experience the symptoms until it is so high as to make you sick.
Caregivers, have you found ways to regain your energy after caregiver burnout? If so, we would love to hear from you. Caregivers are a supportive community and sharing what you have learned can help others.