Ok, so maybe the six steps to avoid caregiver burnout will be easier for some than for others. After all, caring for a family member in the throes of a crisis can turn the most mild-mannered saint into a short-tempered drill sergeant. If you know a family caregiver, this is for you, too. You CAN help!
November marks another National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize, support, and listen to family caregivers. Everyone talks about a cancer journey, or the toll the aging process takes on our nation. But this month we want to celebrate, listen to, and find new ways to celebrate the family caregivers in our midst. Each Sunday of November you’ll heart from a different family caregiver on ways to avoid burnout, care for oneself, or make crucial decisions. You can also listen to the Self-Care Hacks podcast for interviews with family caregivers.
They Warned Me About Caregiver Burnout…
“Now you must realize,” the doctor straightened the papers into the already thick folder as he finished summarizing the diagnosis, treatment protocol, and prognosis, “with a best-case scenario, we’re in for a long haul. You two must take care of yourselves, too. This is not easy on parents, either, and you can’t let yourselves get run down.”
The nurse bustled into the room, loaded with scary-looking objects which she unloaded in the room’s small bathroom. “So, you cannot touch this hat in the toilet, we can’t have his samples contaminated. Also, be sure you don’t let any urine touch you when you help your little guy go—because it will burn a hole in your skin.”
There followed some more directions of what not to touch in the room and what not to do and what I needed to help Andrew with and what I needed to remember. As she breezed back out the door, having set these little traps all over the room, she paused in the doorway, “Mrs. Bovee, you need to remember to take care of yourself through this…this will be a long, tough road.”
Well-Meaning Advice From Unhelpful People
After a two-week stint in the hospital with a feverish and neutropenic boy, I was home, frantically trying to recuperate the family from separation, restore the house from chaos, and prevent the laundry piles from taking over the world. As I sorted and started a load, a neighbor followed me from washing machine to dryer, not helping, but faithfully entreating me to “take care of yourself! Carol, you are just working too hard! You need to let go!”
I stumbled along beside the gurney as we returned from the spinal tap, wiping my tired eyes and unsuccessfully hiding a yawn behind my hand. The nurse, pushing a dopey Andrew, smiled sympathetically at me. “Carol, I hope you’re taking care of yourself. We see so many parents pushing so hard. You’ve got to take time out. Don’t forget you’ll need to recharge your batteries too.”
We received that advice throughout Andrew’s treatment. “You parents need to take care of yourselves, too,” or “Remember that you can help your boy best if you’re taking care of yourself too,” and “Take some time for you!”
But HOW do I Take Care of Myself?
Laudable recommendations from caring souls. I started responding in my head to each entreaty.
“Don’t lift that boy—he’s too heavy for your back!” OK, but he’s four, sick to his stomach, neutropenic, tired…I’m supposed to tell him he’s on his own?
“Don’t worry about the housework, take care of yourself.” OK, but I cannot have a sick boy around dirt…is someone going to clean it for me?
“Make sure you eat regular and healthy meals!” Ok. But the procedures are always during breakfast time, recuperation through lunch, driving through supper and falling into bed. When was I supposed to eat? And what in the world is a ‘regular time?’
I had to keep my job, keep the house, keep the meals on the table, keep up my vigilance against germs and infections for the sick one, and keep my other kids feeling loved and cared for when, exactly, was I supposed to “take care of me?”
Truly, all I could concentrate on, throughout my son’s illness, was him! It wasn’t until it was too late, and I was in trouble, that I realized what I had done to myself. So the question I hear, from so many caregivers, is this:
Hacks for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout While Caring for a Family Member
HOW do I take care of myself, when my primary job is to take care of him/her?
I’m probably the last person to take advice from, as I did not necessarily do it right. On the other hand, maybe I’m a good person to listen to—I can honestly look back over my journey and say that there are things I would do no differently—even if I could have known exactly what I know now. I would still give 150% to my child and my family.
However, there are some things that I wish I could go back and change, or do better:
1. Delegate the Little Things
You cannot delegate the worry. No one else can carry your pain, and your patient might not want you to delegate personal care. So delegate the windows being washed, the lawn getting mown, hand someone your money and your shopping list. Delegate as much as you can. Sometimes that means swallowing your pride, but it might help you avoid swallowing medication later!
2. Make Lists of Things That Need Doing
If someone offers to help, have a list ready of things you need help with. If you have nothing you can think of right that moment, then write their offer down and get contact information and ask if you could call on them sometime. I remember someone offering to help while we were waiting for Andrew to come out of a procedure—a nice gesture, but not where my brain was right that moment.
Create (or ask a friend to create) a Google document and invite the helpers to edit it. People love to help, and even better if they don’t have to intrude too much to do so. You can download a free Caregiver Helpers template to get you started. A shared Google doc is a great place for caregivers to ask for and receive help from a willing community.
Don’t be afraid to call your pastor, a neighbor, or a co-worker and let him/her know of a need. A lot of people think we caregivers have it all under control and don’t think to even ask if there’s a need. But many would help if they knew of a need.
Don’t let fear get in your way (or pride). One person said to me, “It’s o.k. to allow someone else to have the blessing of helping you.” I had never thought about it that way before, and that was releasing to me.
4. Be Willing to Let Go
Sometimes, we caregivers think we need to be Superman and Wonder Woman all rolled into one. We can’t. Or maybe, like in my case, I could for a while, but sustaining that becomes impossible and caregiver burnout ensues.
Take the help that’s offered. Let go of how that help is done. It might not measure up to your standards–but it will probably work! A health crisis is not the time to stress over how the laundry gets folded or the brand of groceries one has in the refrigerator.
5. Search Out Quiet Moments
Caregiving days are often busy and hectic, and when they are quiet, they can be scary. Grab moments of quiet to journal or to process some of what’s been going on. Take those moments to evaluate how you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Is it time to get some help? Do you need to find someone to talk to?
Perhaps you need to join a support group for people in the same situation as you—whether you’re a parent dealing with a child’s diagnosis, a spouse taking care of your mate, or an adult child taking care of a parent. Family Caregiver Alliance https://www.caregiver.org has free support groups to help you through the hard times.
6. Expect Less of Yourself
This one has nothing to do with others’ helping, and everything to do with you deciding that it might be ok if you don’t get things done. Maybe you need to say no to some things you used to do. A caregiver has to re-examine priorities; and in that re-examination, one of those priorities has to be you. Your sanity, your health, your ability to keep on going.
Can I REALLY Avoid Caregiver Burnout?
Avoiding caregiver burnout doesn’t happen magically. It takes thought and intention. If you know a caregiver who seems on the verge of burnout, don’t just share this article with them. Download the Caregiver Helpers template and gently explain it to your stressed-out caregiver friend.
Offer to do the heavy lifting of sharing the document with people the caregiver approves of. Get the caregiver’s input on what kind of help they’d like and when. The best way to avoid caregiver burnout involves a community effort. Be willing to accept help from your community. Without it, you won’t have what it takes to care for your loved one.Discover six hacks that will help you avoid caregiver burnout. #caregiver #burnout #selfcare Click To Tweet