Caregiving is difficult and exhausting work. Family caregivers frequently report experiencing high levels of stress. If you don’t take time to set limits on what you can do and when, and create balance in your life, you may begin to suffer from a condition called “burnout.” When it comes to caring for an aging loved one, some people cope better than others. But everyone’s flame is at risk of flickering out if they aren’t careful.
Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson, who have made studying burnout their life’s work, defined it as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.” Since then, Pines elegantly simplified the definition. “Burnout,” she wrote, “is a state where highly committed individuals lose their spirit.” We’re not talking about just a little stress here—burnout occurs when caregiving no longer feels meaningful because the caregiver is on emotional overload and completely exhausted! It can be overwhelming to take care of an aging loved one and too much stress can be harmful to both of you.
Feeling overwhelmed and unable to take another step forward? You may be experiencing burnout. Take this quiz on the right to find out if your flame is about to fizzle (click on the image for a larger version).
The more items you answered TRUE, the higher the likelihood you are experiencing burnout! Even if you responded TRUE to one question, you will benefit from additional support.
Practical tips to address and reduce stress
Ignoring symptoms of caregiver stress can cause a decline in your health. By applying some of the simple self-care tips below, you can lower stress, improve your health, and feel confident about your ability to care for your loved one:
- Examine what can and cannot be changed in the situation. Be honest. Where can you give up some of your caretaking duties to others? What can you stop doing with no negative consequences?
- Get help. Caregiving is physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. Doing everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. Seek the support of family, friends and other caregivers. Support groups are one positive way to connect with others who are on a similar journey.
- Use relaxation techniques. They really work! There are several simple techniques that can help relieve stress. Find what works best for you: visualization, meditation, breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation. Some find yoga or tai chi to be effective in calming stress.
- Get moving. Physical activity can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Even 10 minutes of exercise a day can help. Take a walk, garden, dance, jump rope.
- Make time for yourself. As a caregiver, it’s hard to find time for yourself, but staying connected to friends, family and activities that you love is important. Look for caregiver respite programs, companionship care, and other supports that free you to carve out time for yourself and to re-energize.
- Become an educated caregiver. If you are caring for someone with dementia, new caregiving skills may be necessary as the disease progresses. Connect with programs to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and other changes that often accompany Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
- Take care of yourself. Staying healthy will help you be a better caregiver. Visit your doctor regularly. Watch your diet, exercise, stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest.
You are not alone
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and confused about what to do. And sometimes you need additional support. Here are some organizations in our area that are ready to offer help, resources, and support:
- Community Living Connections, Seattle & King County: toll-free 1-844-348-5464
- King County Family Caregiver Support Program (call any one of the 10 organizations in the network for help navigating caregiver support services in your area)
- Aging Life Care Association (find an Aging Life Care Professional—also known as a geriatric care manager—near you who can assist with care planning, care management and support)
Talk to someone about your feelings and experiences while caregiving. People who understand are a phone call away. The organizations listed above have experts who are compassionate, knowledgeable, and experienced, and can help you implement some stress reducers and find the support and connect you to the resources you need.
Contributor Jullie Gray, MSW, LICSW, CMC, is a Fellow Certified Care Manager with over 30 years of experience in healthcare and aging. She is a principal at Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care/geriatric care management practice serving King and south Snohomish Counties. Jullie is also president of the National Academy of Certified Care Managers and the past-president of the Aging Life Care™ Association.