Caregiving is stressful. New or short-term caregivers may be coping with an emergency or scrambling to come up with a plan while they see to a child with a broken leg or a spouse who’s had surgery. Those caring for someone with a progressive illness who will require care for a long time may experience exhaustion or burnout. Over time, caregivers experience higher levels of chronic stress and stress-related health problems. When many people rely on you, it’s important to take steps to reduce stress and protect your health.
Here are five ways you can lighten your load and reduce the risk of burnout:
As hospital stays get shorter, patients are often discharged while they still require considerable treatment and medical care. But you shouldn’t be expected to know how to do complicated procedures without training. You will need someone to show you how to change dressings on wounds, how to move your family member without hurting your back, and how to ensure your loved one is taking medications correctly. The best time to do this is when your loved one is still in the hospital. If your loved one will be receiving home health care, rest assured that VNSNY clinicians are experts who can provide tips and offer in-home care techniques. You can also visit disease-specific websites for your loved one’s condition (such as the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society, or the American Diabetes Association, for information that can help you manage symptoms.
Caregivers who maintain friendships and social connections report feeling less overwhelmed and less stressed. But if friends or family don’t understand the pressures you face, get support from other caregivers, who share your issues and concerns. Connecting with others in your situation can be the best way to manage your own emotions and prevent depression and burnout. If you can’t leave your family member at home alone, join a telephone support group or find a community on Facebook or a caregiving forum (be careful to maintain privacy). You can still have a strong connection with other caregivers without having to arrange for respite care. Ask a VNSNY nurse or social worker to help you find a group in your community, or get information about groups in your area from the New York State Office for the Aging.
No one can do it alone—and no one should. Caregiving is demanding, overwhelming, and isolating! If someone offers to help, accept it, and don’t be shy or feel guilty about asking for help. Assistance is invaluable, so turn to friends and family for help with errands or your loved one’s appointments, or consider hiring a home health aide to provide assistance during the day; it may be covered by insurance. Visit Share the Care to see how people pool their efforts to ease family caregivers’ burdens, as well as help those without family nearby.
There are many programs that provide respite care, or a break for caregivers. Your local Area Agency on Aging may have resources to help you bring in a home attendant, or you may be able to place your family member in an adult day care program. Once you have help you can trust, use that time to do something for yourself, or that reduces stress—if you like to cook, for example, you may choose to prepare and freeze a few meals. Enjoy a pastime that gives you real pleasure. Maintaining your hobbies and interests will make caregiving seem easier to manage.
Putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own all the time can lead to resentment. But your loved one needs a happy, healthy caregiver, so take steps to stay strong physically and mentally. Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise. Keep your own doctor’s appointments—many caregivers are so busy taking their family members to medical appointments that they don’t take care of their own health.