How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout: 5 Easy Self-Care Activities to Do Daily
At its most basic, a “caregiver” is someone who provides support to another person. For seniors who need long-term support, a caregiver is often a spouse, adult child, family member, or friend who helps with daily tasks like driving, meal preparation, and housework. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute, 40 million Americans are providing care for an adult family member or friend.
Though caregiving can be rewarding, dedicating yourself to another individual can also be tiring. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that often occurs when individuals are so busy tending to another person that they forget to care for themselves. Unfortunately, self-neglect can have serious ramifications. Depression, for instance, affects 20 to 40 percent of all caregivers. Substance abuse, such as excessive use of alcohol or sleeping pills, is also common. In short, since this state of exhaustion can severely impact a person’s quality of life, it is important to understand how to avoid caregiver burnout.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Individuals may feel overwhelmed or guilty, especially if they are juggling their children or a full-time job alongside their caregiving duties. Caregivers may have unrealistic expectations about how much good they can do for a patient with a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s. They may also become frustrated by dwindling financial resources.
It is common for adult children caring for aging parents to become depressed, stressed, and anxious. If the condition continues untreated, they may even become physically sick. These changes directly impact the individual’s ability to provide for anyone. Understanding how to avoid caregiver burnout is one of the best ways a family member can tend to another person.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout
More than half of caregivers find their duties overwhelming. It’s little wonder why. Caregivers are often tasked with witnessing the heartbreaking decline of another person. They may have to tend to a parent with Alzheimer’s who experiences aggressive mood swings or a spouse who is incontinent. Nothing about a caregiver’s job is easy.
Though the early signs of caregiver burnout are hard to identify, irritability and stress are key indicators. Other warning signs are:
- Feelings of fatigue
- Sleeplessness or a change in sleeping patterns
- Feelings of anxiety
- Neglecting normal responsibilities
- Trouble concentrating
- Not wanting to go to work
- An increase in drinking, eating, or smoking
If left untreated, a caregiver may experience more serious symptoms like:
- Frequent sickness
- Loss of energy
- Frequent exhaustion, even after sleeping
- Unhappiness with the role
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Neglect in self-care
- Inability to relax
- Impatience and irritability with the person being cared for
How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
Though caregiver burnout is common, it can be avoided. Preventing caregiver burnout can be as simple as eating healthy foods or dedicating thirty minutes a day to exercising. Though it sounds counterintuitive, the best thing a caregiver can do for their patient is prioritize themselves. These five daily self-care activities are instrumental in avoiding caregiver burnout.
Rather than scroll through social media or the news, use blocks of spare time to meditate. Mediation is an exercise of mindfulness and has been shown to reduce stress, increase patience and tolerance, and even help manage symptoms of conditions like anxiety, depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Meditation looks different for everyone, but for beginners, the practice might involve focusing on breathing for ten minutes. The goal is to quiet “brain chatter” and focus attention. Apps like Headspace and Calm can help by providing guided meditations.
2. Stay Hydrated
With an endless to-do list, it can be easy to grab caffeinated drinks and ditch the water. However, staying hydrated is the first rule of good health. Research has shown mild dehydration can impair mood and memory in adults, cause sugar cravings and headaches, and even heighten symptoms of anxiety. Generally, individuals should try to drink half an ounce to an ounce of water for every pound they weigh. Someone weighing 150 pounds, for instance, might drink upwards of 150 ounces per day. Carrying a water bottle can be a great reminder to drink up.
3. Take a Walk
For caregivers who are pressed for time, driving to the gym or devising a complicated exercise routine can be stressful. Thankfully, a brisk walk can do a lot of good. Research suggests that walking can reduce stress, improve coordination, strengthen bones and muscles, and prevent conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Carving out 30 minutes to stroll around the block also provides caregivers with a needed break. This time can be used to listen to music, follow a podcast series, or just enjoy nature sounds.
4. Eat Right
Nutritious foods are a great defense against stress. Regularly consuming sugary, processed foods can increase cortisol, a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. Instead of reaching for prepackaged foods, stick to nuts, fruit, veggies, and lean proteins. Dedicating a few hours a week to meal planning can help. On Sunday, for example, cook several portions of chicken and vegetables and freeze the meals in microwave-safe containers for later. Also consider portioning out healthy snacks like almonds, carrots, and hummus.
5. Ask for Help
Asking for help is the least glamorous self-care tip, especially for caregivers who often try to avoid burdening others. Nevertheless, building a strong support system is instrumental in avoiding caregiver burnout. If an adult child is caring for a parent, they may ask a spouse to pick up more responsibilities around the house like cleaning or grocery shopping. They may also ask a sibling to watch after the parent for a weekend, providing themselves with much needed “me” time.
If an aging parent’s condition suddenly worsens, considering assisted living options might be the next best step. At the Villages of Windcrest, we make a concerted effort to provide peace of mind to family caregivers. With a holistic wellness philosophy, we make sure every resident of our assisted living and memory care community feels at home. To learn more about how the Villages of Windcrest could help your family, download our community brochure.