Avoiding Burnout: Tools for Managing Caregiver Stress

Caring for an aging loved one may be one of the most challenging undertakings of your life. There are times when you may have years to prepare for taking on the care of a family member, as in the case of a Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and times when the need comes without warning, such as when a stroke or heart attack strikes. In any caregiving situation, it’s important that you take care of yourself in order to avoid burnout.

According to Dr. Mary Meagher, professor and researcher of the harmful effects of stress, “People exposed to chronic social conflict experience high levels of stress and consequent dysregulation of the immune system, thereby increasing vulnerability to infectious and autoimmune disease.”

Chronic and unresolved stress puts you at greater risk of illness or injury. Caregivers are known to suffer from higher levels of depression than non-caregivers. Prioritizing your own health and well-being will help to ensure the well-being of those in your care.

Stay Organized. This might seem like simple advice at first glance, but the demands of caring for a loved one all or some of the time can be overwhelming. Creating lists of your responsibilities and ranking them by level of priority can help to determine what must happen, what should happen, and what can wait when the list of to-do’s becomes overwhelming.

Make a to-do list that breaks larger tasks down into manageable steps – this list might also help you identify places where you can delegate some of your responsibilities!

Remember to Pat Yourself on the Back. There are many reasons why a caregiver’s efforts might go unrecognized by the extended family, the loved one in your care, or both. Oftentimes, a dependent parent or elder is frustrated by his or her need for assistance, and that frustration may transfer to the closest person at hand: the caregiver.

Take the time to remind yourself of the good work you are doing and why you are doing it. Make a list of your accomplishments throughout the day, big and small, as a concrete reminder of all that you have achieved. Recognize yourself for these achievements!

The American Stroke Association recommends a shift in thinking – instead of saying to yourself, “‘I could do more…’ say ‘caregiving isn’t easy. It takes courage, strength, and compassion to do what I do. I’m not always perfect, but I do a lot and try to be helpful.’”

Get Outside. Studies show that as few as five minutes spent outdoors can improve mental health, self-esteem, and general feelings of well-being. This can be a quick walk or an errand, or incorporate some quality time with the individual in your care. This time outside can also create opportunities for fun, connection, and shared joy with the person you are caring for, which may go a long way in relieving feelings of stress or frustration.

Know When to Ask for Help. When you need assistance with the responsibilities or stresses of caretaking, know that resources are available. Support groups, respite care for adults, or qualified adult day care facilities may offer you some well-deserved relief.

The National Stroke Association has provided a list of organizations offering resources, support and advocacy for Caregivers, including –

  • Lotsa Helping Hands
  • National Alliance for Caregiving
  • Caregiver Action Network
  • Family Caregiver Alliance

Caregiving can be a rewarding and wonderful experience, but it can also be challenging and sometimes stressful. Remember that taking care of yourself will go a long way in keeping you happy and healthy, so that you can keep your loved one happy and healthy too.