4 Strategies to Cope with Caregiver Stress and Burnout

Studies have shown recently that nearly 25% of American families are caring for an aging family member, friend or adult child with disabilities. Part of being a successful caregiver is the ability to set expectations, see one’s own limitations and learn to care for oneself as well as others.

Many family members who care for a loved one may be unable to recognize their own limitations before the strains and stress of caregiving activities turn them into a patient as well. This is especially true for someone who started out providing intermittent assistance to someone with simple tasks such as shopping, errands or bill paying then, as their loved one declined, ended up providing heavy personal care such as bathing and dressing.

In many cases, caregiving responsibilities saturate one's life to the extent that we may not even recognize what was once our normal routine. The responsibilities for providing care for someone else can become gradually overwhelming as the personal needs of the loved one inevitably increase over time.

But burnout isn't like the flu with defined and recognizable symptoms. It gradually creeps up over time. The caretaker may wake up one morning, look in the mirror and not even recognize the person or professional looking back at them.

Symptoms of burnout may include:

·       A heightened sense of helplessness and depression

·       Ongoing and constant fatigue

·       Change in eating habits

·       Increased use of stimulants and/or alcohol

·       Withdrawal from social contacts and friends

·       Lost interest in work that was once fulfilling

·       Overall diminished quality of life

Ultimately these symptoms can lead to a collapse of the "cushion of care" that was originally intended and render the caregiver a patient. This can create a cycle of failure, which becomes self-perpetuating.

Here are 4 great strategies to cope with burnout:

1.     Acknowledge your emotions and find an outlet for them. Feelings of anxiety, worry, anger, guilt, sadness, and resentment are normal and should be shared with others. Most communities have well-organized networks of support groups. These are groups of people who have experienced similar family crises and have banded together to help one another. Support group meetings such as those sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association provide a monthly forum for caregivers to receive feedback and coping strategies from others in the same predicament.

2.     Recognize the importance of your own identity. Allocate some personal time for things you enjoy such as exercise, hobbies, other family members and even some quiet time. Establish some understandings regarding what an emergency is, and more importantly what is not an emergency requiring your immediate response or interruption. Do not hesitate to say "no" if the problem can wait; someone else's crisis only becomes yours if you accept it. Knowing that things can wait can provide you more control over your life. The more you do for someone, the more dependent they can become. Studies have shown that starting or completing tasks for people can offer more independence for both than quickly doing it all for them. Try to focus on what abilities remain rather than those that have become lost or difficult. This helps to build confidence, rather than leaving you with the feeling that you can never do enough.

3.     Don’t allow yourself to get into a rut. Often caregivers can become so wrapped up in handling one problem after another that they can lose perspective. Varying the responsibilities of the caregiver is a way to stay fresh. If possible rotate tasks between other family members, or look into adult day services to give yourself some personal time during the day. Most senior living providers also offer respite programs to allow short-term residency while caregivers take a well-deserved rest or vacation. These programs can provide you peace of mind that professionals are looking after your loved one. This gives you the chance to relax, recharge and regain perspective. Respite can also serve to introduce your loved one to the concept of assisted living so that they can overcome any fears they might have of living there one day. Once they see that others have made the choice to live there and how their lives and family relationships have improved as a result, they might consider the option for themselves.

4.     Recognize that you do not have to do it all. Being a good caregiver doesn't mean that you have to be a martyr. If other family members are giving you direction and advice then they should share in the burden. Learn to ask for and accept help from others, maintaining a balance in your life will help you avoid future burnout.

Above all else, make time for you. Recharge and nurture your own family and friendships. Make time to protect your own health; you will need it now more than ever.

Explore assisted living options at Evolve at Rye today.

Benjamin Pearce is an expert in the senior living industry and dementia-related care. He has thirty-five years of experience working with over 200 communities in 36 states encompassing over $1 billion in annual revenue. Pearce has extensive experience as a published author of several books and as a public speaker for caregivers and supervisors. His book, Senior Living Communities: Operations Management and Marketing for Assisted Living, Congregate and Continuing Care Retirement Communities is the go-to handbook for effective senior residential facilities. It has also been converted into an online classroom for the certification of assisted living administrators in several states. He is also the author of 27 eBooks on Amazon Kindle and iTunes covering industry related topics. He is a frequent contributor on senior living for publications such as Provider, Contemporary Long Term Care and Assisted Living Success. Pearce also serves as an expert witness for assisted living and skilled nursing litigation. Pearce shares his expertise as an adjunct professor for Johns Hopkins University and New York University, while teaching a variety of courses about senior living development and operations. He is also a professor at the Institute for Senior Living Education, based in Connecticut, an instructor for the Executive Director Certification Course and an instructor for EasyCEU.com, a continuing education provider. Pearce has received a number of awards including the Contemporary Long Term Care Order of Excellence, awarded to recognize outstanding operators and an elite fraternity whose members have been judged by their peers to be the nation's best.