The month of celebrating love is not complete without recognizing the hard work of caregivers. It truly requires someone special to take on the physical and emotional challenge of caring for a loved one unconditionally.
A caregiver can be a paid helper or a family member who looks after someone who is unable to care for him or herself. The decision to either hire someone or to take of the family member yourself is a personal decision and best evaluated by the family as a whole. If you chose to personally take care of a family member, keep in mind that the care needs to be a team effort rather than depending solely on one person.
With managing such a huge responsibility, burnout among caregivers is a very common issue. When we discuss burnout, most times we automatically think about professional burnout. Familial caregivers also experience similar symptoms and frustration, especially because they do not have a specific number of hours they dedicate to their “work”. Being a caregiver is almost a 24/7 job and experiencing emotional, mental and physical exhaustion is almost expected.
The symptoms of burnout can, but do not always, mirror the symptoms of depression. Common symptoms include sleep deprivation, weight fluctuation, muscle aches, mood swings, addiction, anxiety, memory problems, and headaches. Treatment for depression and caregiver burnout may overlap in some areas but it is important to identify and treat the root of the issue instead of the symptoms to reduce long term impact. Are you allowed to feel burned out from taking care of a loved one? Yes. It happens to the best of us. It happens especially because we are likely to be more invested in the wellbeing of our family member and may be witnessing the continuous decay in their health firsthand.
For any family to properly function the day-to-day responsibilities and chores cannot depend on a single person. This is especially true when a family member becomes the primary caregiver for a disadvantaged family member. It is even more imperative then that every member of the family contribute; whether that means partners increasing their help with household chores, be it managing bills or cooking, to children completing age-appropriate chores – every family member needs to contribute to the success of the family unit. Though you may have taken on the responsibility of caring for a disadvantaged member, not having time for yourself is unfair to your mental health. The changes occurring in the family dynamic will require adjustment and seeking professional assistance to cope with these changes will help take some pressure off. You don’t have to know all the answers all the time.
Each able member of the family will need to participate in caring for the disadvantaged member, allowing the official caregiver time for self-care. Self-care consists of finding ways to “recharge” and finding the needed energy to continue the work. Self-care helps you feel centered. It can be as simple as taking a few minutes in the morning to enjoy your coffee/tea quietly or as “extravagant” as taking the whole day for a massage, manicure, and pedicure.
For caregivers it is important to keep some specifics in mind:
- Clarify the new roles you are taking on (e.g., nurse, helper, chef) while continuing your current role as a child, partner, parent, sibling, etc.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself and for the possibility of improvement in the family member’s health.
- Give yourself a break! Whether that means asking for help and taking time for yourself or simply knowing that you are doing the very best that you can.
- Talk about it. The change the family is experiencing is not something to shy away from and could definitely benefit from some support.
- Reach out to the doctors, support groups and/or a local therapist to process.
Caregiver burnout can be managed by focusing on self-care as well as reaching out for help. Let’s work together to explore and provide the best for you and your family. Zenergy Counseling is just a call away for support.