The holidays are a busy time of year for anyone. It seems like there are a ton of things to do and not nearly enough time to do them. If you add caring for a loved one to the mix, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. This holiday, destress your season with these tips to avoid caregiver burnout.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiving is a difficult and often thankless job. For most, it means you’re responsible for another person around the clock. If you’re caring for someone whose health is in decline, it can feel like a losing battle. And caring for a loved one who is not likely to recover from their illness or disability can seem like an endless job.
The stress of daily life can prove to be too much at times. Caregivers may begin to feel isolated and may develop signs of depression. They can suffer from a lack of sleep if their charge often awakens during the night. And it’s common for caregivers to let their own needs go in order to provide better care for their loved ones.
Of course, none of this is good, and the person you’re caring for wouldn’t want you to sacrifice your own health on their behalf. But with such a challenging and time-consuming responsibility, how do you keep burnout from creeping in?
Tip 1: Know Your Limits
The truth is, you can’t do it all. Even the most self-sufficient people on the planet have limits they must accept in order to function. But since we’re all different, we all have different limits.
This holiday season, take stock of your situation. Keep a journal. In it, record your thoughts each day. Write down the things that are making you feel stressed. You’re probably going to notice a pattern. A few concerns will likely come up over and over. These are the things you need to address in order to maintain your own mental wellbeing.
It might be that you’re worried that you’re taking too much time away from your spouse or kids. If so, find ways to spend some quality time together, even if it’s only while grandma is sleeping. Perhaps you’re frustrated that you’ve had to put your career aside while you care for a family member. Find a way to keep your hat in the ring. You might be able to do some freelance work in your field an hour or two a week. No matter what the stressor, a bit of creativity can often release a little of the tension. You won’t make everything better, but you may find you have enough peace to breathe.
When you’re done with the negative stuff, be sure to pen a few items that make you feel joy. This will help you feel a bit of balance and remember that in addition to the tough things in life, there are still good moments just about every day.
You can also learn to incorporate these things into your routine. Perhaps you found joy in listening to some Christmas carols on the radio. If so, play music more often, especially when you’re stressed. If you really enjoyed looking through old photo albums with your loved one, set aside some time to do so more often. It’s important to focus on the good stuff as well as the bad.
Tip 2: Take Care of Yourself First
Many caregivers run themselves ragged trying to ensure their loved one gets the best care possible. But if you put your health aside to care for someone else, you can’t actually give the high-quality care you would otherwise.
Especially this time of year, be sure to keep up with your own personal needs. Eat healthy meals, even when you’re too tired to do a lot of cooking. Get a full night’s rest, or supplement with naps during the day if you can’t sleep the whole night through. Don’t give up on your exercise routine, even if it means hitting the gym at odd hours or working out in the living room with a TV fitness program.
At the end of the day, your health is the most important gift you can give to your loved one. They depend on you to be there for them, so be sure you’re physically and mentally up for the task.
Tip 3: Take Time Away
Everyone needs a break from time to time. There’s no shame in it. But for caregivers, taking time for themselves can be easier said than done.
The good news is, there are a lot of resources that can help you get some relief from time to time. Look for a good senior day center in your area. Find a home care team that can come in for a few hours at a time. Ask a friend or family member to care for your loved one for a few hours so you can go out. Or see if there are volunteers at your church, synagogue, or community center who could help out. You’ll be amazed at how many options exist when you look for them.
Tip 4: Get Help Delivered
In addition to giving yourself regular breaks, there are times that you just need a helping hand. There’s no shame in asking for help. And there are plenty of ways to get it.
Have an urgent health issue? Instead of rushing to the nearest emergency room, order a house call from DispatchHealth instead. You’ll get high-quality care without having to leave home. They can treat almost anything your local ER handles. It’s covered by most insurance including Medicare, and they’ll keep your loved one’s primary doctor informed of the visit too.
Maybe mealtime is your most difficult part of the day. Look into a meal prep service and let someone else deal with that stress. Subscribe to a box that arrives on your door, ready for you to cook. Or get homemade frozen meals pre-made from a local cook. They’re much healthier than store-bought frozen entrees and you can often have them customized to match tastes and nutrition needs.
Are you having trouble finding time for shopping? Order gifts online. Have your groceries delivered to your door. Rent a wardrobe that’s always in style. The possibilities are endless. Whatever tasks or problems you’re facing, you can probably find an on-demand service that’s willing to lend a helping hand.
Tip 5: Do Things the Easy Way
Yes, grandma always cooked a huge holiday dinner from scratch. She spent weeks perfecting the table settings and polishing silver. She baked dozens of Christmas cookies and had 20-30 family members over for dinner. But you’re not her.
Work smarter not harder this year. Instead of fancy china, get pretty paper plates. Have Christmas dinner catered, or have everyone in the family pitch in with a dish or two. Only invite a few people over, or let someone else host this year. It’s better to have a peaceful holiday than to overstress over getting everything just right. And the memories will be just as sweet, even if the pie crust came from the supermarket.
Give yourself a break, take time to breathe, and remember to take care of yourself too. No matter what kind of holiday celebration you’re looking forward to this year, we hope it will be happy, healthy, and filled with precious memories and plenty of love.