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Caregiver Stress and Burnout - How to Avoid It
Aug 25, 2017 by Toni Reinhart
You are wonderful. OK, now breathe and say that to yourself again. You are wonderful. Feel better? I do. I know that voice inside our heads is our biggest critic. Why do we say things to ourselves we would never say to anyone else? Or, hopefully, never hear from anyone else?
Last week was a hard one for me, and I’m not even the full-time caregiver. My mother is caring for my father, who has dementia. For a while, he was so pleasant about everything, but is now losing his temper and raging. He fired the caregiver and my mother responded with “he wants to do everything for himself.” So, being the consummate professional and caring person that I am, I yelled at my mother.
Do you think that I cut myself a break? No. I not only felt like “a terrible person," but I also started my conversations with my friends from whom I was seeking solace by saying “I’m a terrible person.” Is that solving anything? Again, no. So, in my attempt to help myself, I’m going to try to help other people. (Psst...the added benefit is that helping other people is one of the quickest ways to help yourself.)
Here are some things you can do:
- Talk it out. Women are usually good at this. We use each other to vent, empathize and strengthen our relationships. Men, if you aren’t good at this, give it a try.
- Join a support group. My mother and I are going to go together. There is one for families and one for spouses. We will go to the one for families together and then she will stay for the support group for spouses. Support groups are everywhere now. Check out Insight Memory Care – they have quite a few programs. Assisted Living Communities usually also sponsor support groups (here are few listed in the Northern Virginia area). Keep going until you find one you are comfortable with. They have support groups for dementia, Parkinson's, cancer, and just general caregiver support groups.
- Exercise. I know you have heard this before. That’s because it works. You might have to force yourself to do it. When I was caring for my husband’s mother (who had Frontal Temporal Dementia), I skipped the gym for about a year. It did not help. After the yelling session with my mother, I really wanted to sit on the couch and drink a bottle of wine. Instead, I went to yoga. (I did have a glass of wine when I got back, but that’s more in the acceptable range.)
- Try to be realistic about what you can do. Why do we have this image in our heads about the perfect caregiver? No such creature exists. Take a good look at yourself and what you can do. There’s nothing wrong with trying to do better, but cut yourself some slack. This is hard and you don’t know when it will end or what it’s going to really look like.
- Ask for help. If you are the full-time caregiver, most people will be more than happy that you took on that role. That doesn’t mean they won’t help. But, try and be specific when you ask for help. Really, people don’t know what to do. If you need help getting to the grocery store, say so. If you want someone to watch your loved one while you go out – say so. Don’t try and do everything by yourself if you have a sibling or friend who is willing to lend a hand. And if you don't have a sibling or friend who is willing to help, replace them with a robot (just kidding, although we are pretty excited about Rudy coming to our office and client homes soon).
- Take care of your health. In the 16 years we have been running Comfort Keepers, we see many caregivers die first. Caregiving not only takes an emotional toll, it takes a physical toll as well. Don’t neglect your doctor visits and check-ups.
- Try meditation or yoga. I keep meaning to try meditation, but never seem to get around to it. Try it for me and let me know how it goes. Meanwhile, yoga has been a lifesaver for me. Corpse pose is my favorite. Try a “restorative” yoga.
- Remember – 'you are wonderful.' Say that to yourself instead of 'you are terrible.' It helps.
We’re here to help 24/7. Give us a call at (703) 424-9519, or stop by at 459 Herndon Pkwy #5, Herndon, VA 20170.
Comfort Keepers Herndon is a full-service, in-home care provider for the elderly - helping to keep your loved ones at home longer for better quality of life.