As a caregiver, you have the important role of caring for someone other than yourself. This role can be valuable and fulfilling, but it can also have an extreme impact on your own wellbeing. As a caregiver, it is important to remember that your own needs matter, too. If you don’t take care of your own needs, you increase the chances of experiencing caregiver burnout. The following tips can help guide you to make choices to protect yourself from caregiver burnout.
1. Take care of your physical health
When taking care of someone else, it can be easy to let your own physical needs slip. You may start eating more poorly, neglecting to exercise, or getting less sleep. Despite your dedication to someone else’s health, it is still important to prioritize your own. After all, it’s hard to take care of someone else if you don’t take care of yourself.
Physical health and mental health impact each other in meaningful ways. In order to be at your best for yourself and your loved one, be careful to not let either of these important pieces of the puzzle slip.
2. Take time away
Being a caregiver to a loved one can feel like a nonstop job. Depending on the individual’s situation, it can even be scary to be away from the person you’re caring for. However, it is necessary to take breaks from the situation. Just as spending every moment working at a job can be draining, so can “the job” of caring for another person. How to go about these breaks will vary in each situation. If your loved one requires a great deal of care, you may need to call upon someone else for (such as hired help, a relative, etc.) to give you time away. In other cases, you may not need this support, but you may still feel uncomfortable being away. Do your best to fight through this discomfort because time apart from caregiving is not simply a luxury, but a necessity for your mental health and for your ability to continue to provide effective care.
3. Focus on the small picture
Looking at life through the perspective of the big picture can be overwhelming. There may be times when you question whether you are doing enough to support your loved one, yourself, friends, family, work, or anything else you may be juggling. You may wonder if you’re making enough of a difference or helping enough overall. In moments like these, it can be helpful to shrink your perspective down to the current day; just reflect on the small tasks you accomplished and the decisions that you made to be of support to someone in need.
4. Practice saying “no”
One of the most important ways to protect your mental health is to set clear and consistent boundaries. When managing the time-intensive role of caring for another person, other tasks may become more difficult than usual to accomplish. For example, a friend might ask for help, or a relative might invite you to come over for dinner. Combined with your caregiving role, (and maybe even a “regular” job or school) this may feel like too much to manage. Guilt or shame may push you to agree to these activities that put pressure on you. However, it is important to learn to say no when it feels like too much. This is difficult, especially at first, because you want to be there for others and to make family and friends happy. It is important to understand that taking on everything out of guilt will lead to feelings of burnout. With time and practice, it will become easier to enforce these boundaries and prioritize your activities.
5. Ask for and accept help for yourself
Much of your life may be connected to your role as a caregiver, but be careful not to forget that you are also a person who needs care. If you become overwhelmed, seek out support. If others offer help with your role or other aspects of your life, accept that help. There is no shame or weakness in accepting the fact that you can’t manage everything in your life without assistance, whether that comes through active help with tasks or simply seeking emotional support.
6. Give yourself permission for your feelings
You’re not a robot. You do have feelings! Allow yourself to get frustrated or upset when you feel overwhelmed. You may be tempted to block these emotions out of the fear that you’re placing blame on someone for needing you or that you have no right to be unhappy because you are not the “sick one.” These feelings are natural, but if you handle them correctly, they are temporary. Bottling in emotions can build resentment or anxiety, which can become chronic and much more difficult to manage in the long term. It is important to recognize that you have the right to your feelings and that allowing yourself to feel them (and deal with them) is the most helpful way for them to pass.
7. Give yourself credit and praise
You’re taking on one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences a person can do: caring for someone in need. There will be moments when you make mistakes or when you are uncertain how to manage the juggling. Before you become frustrated with yourself, give yourself praise and credit for all the good work that you’re doing. Your efforts deserve that praise, and reminding yourself of what you’re managing can be a helpful way to continue being effective at this important role.
Although being a caregiver is an important and valuable role, the struggles of caregiving can take a toll on your well-being. In order to prevent burnout, it is critical for all caregivers to utilize strategies to care for themselves.
Resources for further support:
- AARP, U., & AARP, U. (n.d.). How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout and Manage Stress. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2019/caregiver-stress-burnout.html
- Borg, A. (2019). How to Care for Your Loved One Without Losing Your Sh%t!: Recovering from caregiver stress and preventing caregiver burnout. Independently Published.