Caring for an ill spouse or family member can be a fulfilling experience—a chance to give back to an aging parent or bond more closely with the one you love. But if you repeatedly put your own needs on the back burner, it can also become exhausting and feel like a thankless job.
Self-sacrifice carries serious consequences: Canceling vacations, putting off friends and giving up hobbies can make you resent the one you care for. Resentment triggers a cycle of guilt and anger that over time can lead to caregiver burnout.
The change in attitude from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned sets caregivers up for depression and frequent illness and puts them at risk for abusing drugs, alcohol or their loved one.
You can prevent this pitfall by seeing self-care as essential to your survival instead of a luxury you can do without. Start by taking these steps today:
- Accept help from others. Take family, friends and neighbors up on their offers to help. For example, have a friend do your shopping or watch your loved one while you shop. If you don’t have a big family or lots of friends, try tapping a local church or civic group like the Rotary or Kiwanis clubs. They often have volunteers who can help. If you can manage it, hire a caregiving or hospice service.
- Set aside time for yourself. Try to take an hour of “me” time each day to relax and read or meditate to take your mind off your everyday concerns. You’ll lower your blood pressure and heart rate and feel physically and mentally recharged.
- Keep in touch with family and friends. Maintaining your social ties works wonders for your mental health. In fact, supportive relationships fend off depression and keep you grounded. Joining a caregiver support group can help, too.
- Eat to replenish your energy. Choose a diet packed with fiber-rich, whole-grain breads and cereals; fresh fruits and vegetables; lean beef, chicken or fish; and healthy fats, such as olive oil, to maintain your energy levels.
- Get regular physical activity. A workout can boost your mood, reduce tension and depression and help you sleep better. If you’ve been inactive, speak with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.
- Get adequate sleep. Getting enough sleep helps you awaken feeling refreshed and rested. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, call your provider. He or she can recommend strategies or prescribe medicine to help you.
Sure Signs of Burnout
Recognizing burnout is the first step in overcoming it. If you’re headed down that path or are already there, you may experience:
- Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones
- Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- Feelings of sadness, irritability, hopelessness and helplessness
- Changes in appetite, weight or both
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
If this describes you, seek counseling or speak with your healthcare provider about your feelings. He or she can help you see things clearly and set goals to get your health back on track.