Exhaustion. Digestive distress. Headache. Depression. Sleeplessness. If you’re a medical caregiver for someone with a chronic illness, you may have seen these symptoms. But we’re not talking about your patient’s symptoms; these symptoms just might be your own. While caring for your loved one is important, remember that you also need to take care of yourself. You’ll feel better, and your self-care will make you more prepared to care for your loved one. Here are five ways to avoid burnout.
- Eat Well and Get Enough Sleep
You probably focus on making sure your loved one eats healthy meals and gets adequate rest. But your needs are important, too. Being a caregiver is stressful, and stress can damage the body. Help your body combat and recover from stress by giving it rest and healthy food. Dr. Marlynn Wei, from Harvard Health, reminded caregivers to schedule time for meals and set aside time to wind down at bedtime, which helps us sleep better.
- Try Stretching, Yoga, and Focused Breathing
It can be hard to find time for exercise when you’re a caregiver. But you can incorporate yoga-inspired stretches and focused breathing into your day, to relax and rejuvenate your body. Sally Hill Jones, PhD, lecturer at Texas State University and hospice consultant, suggested “scanning” your body a few times a day to become aware of tense, “red flag” areas, like your neck and back. Stretching those areas can be helpful. Shallow breathing can also add to physical stress, so consider adopting a focused, yogic breathing technique, like the relaxing breath.
- Accept Help
Be prepared for offers of help when they happen. Make a list of what family and friends can do, and let them choose something off of the list to help you out. Maybe they can go grocery shopping for you, or make you a meal. Don’t feel guilty if they’re helping you instead of your loved one directly. Remember that any tasks they take off of you indirectly helps your loved one.
Also consider professional non-medical home care for your loved one, even on a temporary basis. You can use these services to take some of the burden off of you. Ask your loved one’s doctor if they can recommend this type of service provider. Don’t wait until you actually burn out before you ask for help.
- Talk to Your Doctor
Keep your doctor aware of your position as a caregiver. They may be able to help with some of the common issues that caregivers face, like sleeplessness. They’ll also make sure that you get your recommended screenings and vaccinations that will keep you and your loved one healthy.
- Stay Social
It’s easy to feel isolated when you are a caregiver, so it’s important to maintain social ties. Set aside time to get together with friends and family. The emotional support they can provide will help you avoid caregiver burnout. Caregiver support groups are also a way to stay connected and talk to others who are going through similar experiences. Check with your local hospital or other local organizations.
Try not to think of self-care as another burden or another chore to undertake. Sometimes self-care takes the form of letting others care for you, instead of another task for you. Recognize when you need help – or at least a break – and use some of your energy on yourself.