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Signs of Caregiver Burnout, and Strategies to Combat Stress

“Sometimes I just don’t think I can do this anymore,” said Sarah, an 84-year-old woman in Florida, whose older sister lives down the street. “Except I have to. We grew up in a generation where we all looked out for each other — and I love my sister, so I do it.” While Sarah’s caregiving duties aren’t required every day, she is needed for seemingly endless transportation to doctor appointments, grocery shopping, medical equipment checks, meal preparation, and other activities of daily living. It was adding up to more than Sarah could keep up with while managing her own high blood pressure and diabetes. Sarah added, “I always make sure I have my phone in case she calls in the middle of the night.”

Taking care of a loved one, whether they have a physical disability or an age-related condition, can be demanding on you physically, mentally and emotionally. Adding into the mix a heightened fear and anxiety around COVID-19, you are at risk for caregiver burnout.

In fact, thirty-six percent of family caregivers characterize their situation as highly stressful, according to the report “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020” from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC).

The AARP provides some common signs of caregiver burnout:

  • You’re angry and frustrated at the person you’re caring for
  • You’re experiencing fatigue and increased difficulty in completing simple tasks
  • You have trouble concentrating and find yourself forgetting things
  • You are in denial about your loved one’s condition
  • You’re experiencing health problems
  • You’re irritable and moody
  • You’re isolating yourself from friends, family and activities that you used to enjoy

If any or all of these raised some red flags, then it’s likely time to discuss an ongoing care or respite solution.

Ways to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

Here are some ways you can take proactive steps to combat caregiver burnout:

Relax. You can do this by allowing yourself to sleep in an extra 15 minutes, taking a warm bath, or going for a walk outside. Relaxation improves your mental health and gives your body a chance to take a break, which decreases your stress levels.

Make your communication intentional. Allow yourself to be quiet in certain moments and more cautious of the amount you talk. Engaging in conversation is great, but talking too much can take a toll on your mental energy.

Become involved in a support group. Seeking help from other family caregivers can help you get the proper support and advice. Realizing that you are not alone can bring you relief, as well as comfort in knowing that others are going through similar struggles and are there to help and encourage you.

Surround yourself with positive people. Positivity is contagious. When you surround yourself with positive people who care about your overall well being, you will be much happier and more likely to succeed. Try to limit the time you spend with people who have a negative attitude.

Make your personal health a priority. Set aside time for exercise each day, and make sure you’re eating a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fluids. When you take care of yourself, you’re a better person to your loved ones.

You can start your caregiver curriculum by enrolling in a CPR and/or basic first aid class through the American Red Cross so you are prepared for medical emergencies should they happen.

You can start your caregiver curriculum by enrolling in a CPR and/or basic first aid class through the American Red Cross so you are prepared for medical emergencies should they happen.

If your loved one has a chronic illness or disability, learn as much as you can about it. Seek out reputable websites dedicated to the condition, such as the American Heart Association.

If you are concerned about helping your loved one move around safely, including transferring from a car, check out the first five instructional videos by The Home Alone Alliance.

Take care of yourself. Most importantly, take care of yourself. Carve out time every day to recharge: take a warm bath, exercise or visit with friends. You must tend to your needs so you are physically, emotionally and mentally prepared to care for your loved one.

Being a caregiver is one of the ultimate acts of loyalty, selflessness and love. Education, organization and a support network will elevate your effectiveness as a caregiver and the quality of care you provide.

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