For many family caregivers, the word burnout has negative connotations... but for all the wrong reasons!
When I speak with family caregivers, especially in support groups, they often equate burnout with failure. Never mind the ramifications that burning out can have on a caregiver's health and well-being; it's often interpreted as a sign of weakness, rife with implications of ineffectiveness, inability and frailty. Sadly, family caregivers often feel like they're expected to tackle Herculean tasks such as caring for a loved one, managing personal family responsibilities, and succeeding as an employee all with nothing more than a gracious nod and a smile. But where was the "me time" in that to-do list? That essential block of quiet time to rest, recuperate and recharge your batteries?
Most family caregivers collide with their role as a caregiver... no preparation, no training and little understanding regarding what to expect. One day you're living your own life, and the next you're entirely responsible for the health and well-being of a loved one. For many family caregivers, this fundamental lack of understanding as to what their role entails contributes to a dismal level of self-compassion, which certainly contributes to burnout. In fact, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, nearly 35 percent of family caregivers are coping with issues of depression.
There is no way of softening the fact that caregiving is stressful. However, there is a big difference between feeling stressed and experiencing burnout. Here are a few red flags to look for if you or a person you know is entrenched in family caregiving responsibilities:
• You have much less energy than you once had.
• You become more susceptible to cold and flu viruses.
• You are constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break.
• You neglect your own needs because you're too busy or don't care anymore.
• Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction.
• You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available.
• You are increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you're caring for.
• You feel helpless and hopeless.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are concerned about burnout, I urge you to visit caring.com and take a two-minute, 12-question quiz that will help you assess your current threshold.
Whether you're currently experiencing burnout, are on the border line, or you're just stressed out, how you deal with this issue will greatly influence your day-to-day quality of life.
You deserve the best quality of life possible and to help you begin the process, I am giving you a TIMEOUT. Yes, a TIMEOUT!
Let's think of a TIMEOUT as a reset, a deep breath or an opportunity to reassess and restart with the intent to create a better outcome. After all, in sports, when things get out-of-hand, coach calls a TIMEOUT. If little children are acting in an unacceptable way, parents may give them a TIMEOUT. Heck, even in my household, my own family has given me a (well-deserved) TIMEOUT!
I continually hear excuses from family caregivers as to why a TIMEOUT isn't realistic or applicable. The refrain is the same: "I don't have the time!" But would you ever accept this answer if you were counseling a friend who was struggling with similar issues? Doubtful.
So what does this all mean to you... TIMEOUTS, self-compassion, reset, etc.? It means, starting today, YOU need to become your own life advocate. You need to make a commitment to yourself to effectively address caregiver stress before you burnout.
Here are four simple words to consider every day, which will help you structure a TIMEOUT that works for you:
Reset. Take control over the process before circumstances spiral out of hand.
Respite. Every day, carve out a small window of time for yourself and selflessly protect it.
Reassess. Take time to evaluate your personal needs along with your caregiving responsibilities and determine the best balance to meet ALL your priorities.
Reengage. Get back in the game and don't be a stranger to friends and activities that mean a lot to you.
Family caregiving presents challenges and many of them can be out of your control. Therefore, it is essential to take charge of the parts of your life you can control. Before you feel overwhelmed, call a healthy TIMEOUT to avoid caregiver burnout.
Help yourself. Help Others.