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! #caregiverburnout #caregiver #burnout #health #selfcare #selfcarehacks #NationalFamilyCaregiverMonth

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.

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! #caregiverburnout #caregiver #burnout #health #selfcare #selfcarehacks #NationalFamilyCaregiverMonth

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?

Great advice.
Laudable recommendations from caring souls. I started responding in my head to each entreaty.

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! #caregiverburnout #caregiver #burnout #health #selfcare #selfcarehacks #NationalFamilyCaregiverMonth

“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.

3. Ask 

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.

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  1. This is great. When my m-i-l was here, the social worker kept pushing for us to put her in their respite care for a weekend so we could get away. But she had dementia and could not speak. (Sometimes they seemed to think, “She has dementia, so it doesn’t matter anyway if she understands what’s going on.” Grr.) We just couldn’t see doing that to her. And we probably would have been concerned for her our whole time away anyway. We had brief evenings away, hiring a professional caregiver to come into our home. But that was expensive, so we didn’t do it often.
    Barbara Harper recently posted…Things That Will Still Be True After Election DayMy Profile

    1. It feels almost impossible to find that balance, doesn’t it? How do we take care of our patient as well as ourselves. For me, it was in the little things, because like you, I did not want to leave my child for a weekend get-away either. But I sure could have used a 30 minutes massage! 🙂

  2. Great advice Carol, I learnt the hard way too the first time I was a carer, the second time I faired much better in accepting help & looking after myself through caring for my husband in his losing battle with brain cancer.

    You’re most welcome to join me in a cuppa at Tea With Jennifer,
    Tea With Jennifer recently posted…Tea in the VineyardsMy Profile

  3. Thank you, Carol, for these insights and practical ideas for avoiding caregiver burnout. I’ve never really been in that role, but I know of so many who have and are, and they usually find themselves being sucked dry at some point. I’m not saying that the people they are caring for are “black holes” or anything. It’s just such a demanding position to fulfill and keep going. Thanks also to Anita for keeping us informed and prepared for every possible challenge in our lives.
    Beth Steffaniak recently posted…By: Joanne ViolaMy Profile

  4. This is such a great topic for Inspire Me Mondays in November. While I am not currently a caregiver, I was the caregiver for both my mother and her mother simultaneously while one was fighting colon cancer and the other dementia. This was many years before we had wonderful blogging resources from real people sharing real experiences that is always so helpful. Being a caregiver is seriously one of the most difficult things a person can do. I so appreciate that you are making efforts to spread this kind of awareness!


  5. Great message with practical steps, Carol. Whether we are caring for a child, parents or our spouse, it makes sense to apply wisdom from someone who’s been there. Delegating is always hard for me in any situation, so this tip spoke the loudest to my heart.
    Karen Friday recently posted…Who God is and What He DoesMy Profile

  6. Carol, the advice you give here is wonderful, not only for caregivers but for those of us who know a caregiver. When I cared for my ailing mom several years ago, I certainly could have used this list. #4 is especially hard for me!
    Laurie recently posted…Look For the CandlesMy Profile

  7. Hey Carol, this is such a great list for avoiding burnout. #3, Ask, especially resonated with me. I know that other people can’t say “yes” if I don’t ask. Yet, I so often hesitate anyway. Thank you for another reminder that it is, indeed, OK to ask. I need to hear this over and over again.

    Anita, happy Monday! Thank you for another great link-up and for the chance to meet som amazing bloggers. I love what you do!
    Jed Jurchenko recently posted…The Ultimate Guide to Self-Care for Kids: Reduce Childhood Stress Fast!My Profile

  8. This is such a good list – you are right – it’s hard asking for help. It was tough letting my teens take care of meals when I was with my husband over an hour away in the hospital for weeks.

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