The Importance of Avoiding Caregiver Strain
Currently, over 40 million adults in the US find themselves acting as a caregiver - be it for aging parents, elderly relatives, children, or chronically ill or disabled loved ones. Usually unpaid, this job is often a thankless one, leaving many caregivers feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and underappreciated. Caregiver burnout is common. This burnout, also called caregiver strain, arises when a caregiver becomes overly stressed and feels unable to cope with the 24/7 job of caregiving and/or their own physical and emotional wellbeing. Coupled with the global pandemic, many caregivers are also now living with the person they care for, or multiple people whom they care for, are socially isolated from others, and are facing an ever-increasing number of hours spent caregiving. In this article, we’ll look at some of the warning signs of caregiver strain plus our best tips in order to avoid and/or manage caregiver burnout whenever possible.
Warning Signs of Caregiver Strain
If you are a caregiver to any of the above groups of people, you know just how stressful the job can actually be. At the same time, you might also be so focused on the task at hand that you sometimes forget to take a step back and prioritize your own mental and physical health as well. There is a myriad of signs that might signal caregiver strain, everything from a lack of energy, feelings of overwhelm, hopelessness, or loss of interest in hobbies or activities you normally enjoy to feeling impatient and irritable with others. Caregivers also frequently experience fatigue and sleeping issues, both sleeping too much as well as too little. Stress can also play out with more physical symptoms like weight loss or gain, headaches, or stomach aches. Caregiver stress can interfere with your immune response, can leave you with anxiety, or force you into a constant state of worry. At the end of the day, any of these feelings or physical symptoms could mean you are experiencing caregiver burnout.
Tips to Avoid Caregiver Strain
Dealing with caregiver strain might be common, but it doesn’t have to be! If you feel like you might be experiencing caregiver burnout, here are our best strategies to help combat and cope with the stress of being a primary caregiver.
1 Ask for Help. It might sound too simple to be true but asking for help is the single best way to relieve the stress of being a caregiver. Reach out to friends and family members who might be able to help you. Make a list of all the caregiving tasks that need attention and let them pick a few to tackle. This can both take a little off of your plate while also giving them the freedom to choose how they help. No one needs to do this alone.
2 Know Your Limitations. You can't be everything to everyone, so don’t place unnecessary stress on yourself by expecting to do all of the things. Be honest with yourself about your limitations and focus on what you can do. It’s not about feeling guilty for the things you are unable to do, it’s about doing the best you can.
3 Say No. While you are being realistic with your limitations you can also start using the word No when necessary! If there is a task that is too stressful or even simply too draining on your time or resources, give yourself permission to say no, guilt-free.
4 Take Breaks. It is OK to take time for yourself. Go outside for a while and sit in the sunshine, meet up with friends for coffee or lunch, take a walk, meditate, stretch, journal, or read a book. Taking time for yourself is necessary to remind yourself that your needs are important too. These little breaks don’t have to be long: just enough to do something you enjoy, to boost your mood, and recharge your internal batteries while relieving some stress.
5 Make Time for Your Own Wellness. You won’t be able to properly care for others unless your needs are met. That means you must prioritize the things that keep you physically and emotionally healthy. Make time for physical activity, eat a diet of mostly whole, healthful foods, stay hydrated and get consistent, quality sleep. These things will not only help you relieve stress but also increase energy, so you don’t feel so drained throughout the day.
6 Don’t Neglect Social Interactions. Meeting up in person might be difficult these days, especially if you are a caregiver. But it is more important than ever not to isolate yourself. Make it a point to keep doing the social activities that you enjoy, even if they are being held virtually.
Caregiver strain is a common side effect of being the primary caregiver for elderly parents, loved ones, or even just for our own children. By implementing the tips and strategies listed above you can not only support your own health, happiness and wellbeing but also become a better caregiver in the process.