How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
The role of caregiver or support partner is essential to any patient who relies on others for substantial assistance every day. An overlooked aspect of this relationship is the health of caregivers, including their mental health. In a prior post, I discussed how patients can watch their support partners for stress and how they can help prevent them from burning out.
But what can caregivers do on their own to keep from burning out?
Questions that caregivers should ask themselves
Burnout is a medical condition that the World Health Organization defines as: “A syndrome...resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”1
Support partners should never try to shrug off burnout! If a patient or friend suggests you are stressing out, listen to them. Don't dismiss their concerns; instead, ask yourself some hard questions:
- Am I working more than I did just a few months ago? (Or do you feel as if you are?)
- Have I lost some interest in social or athletic activities that I have always enjoyed?
- Has there been a significant change in my appetite?
- Am I having trouble sleeping?
- Have I become more irritable or more easily annoyed or angered?
What can caregivers do to prevent burnout?
Here are some simple ideas:
One easy way for a support partner to lighten their workload is to prepare multiple meals at once. The refrigerator and freezer are there for a reason – use them! Baking tomorrow’s chicken at the same time as cooking tonight’s fish takes little effort. And it eliminates the prep and cooking time the following night.
Ask for help
A second step that caregivers should take is to ask any available family members or helpful friends to pitch in. If the patient needs a ride to a doctor or to a store, see if someone else is available. This gives the support partner some free time and gives them the comfort of knowing that someone else is willing to help out.
Another stress buster is exercise. That is because exercise benefits everyone both physically and mentally, not to mention that you are taking time to make your needs a priority. Activities such as tennis, pickleball, yoga, volleyball, softball, and hiking can release endorphins and be a great social outlet. (But you might wish to avoid golf, as so many people find it very frustrating!).
Additional benefits of exercise
Researchers have found that even a short, brisk walk can improve cardiovascular health, strengthen bones and muscles, and increase energy levels.2 Even more remarkable is the effect that exercise has on the brain. NYU professor of neural science, Wendy Suzuki, preaches the benefits of just 150 minutes of exercise per week: “[It] has an immediate, positive benefit for your brain, including your mood and your focus…[and] protects your brain from different conditions like depression, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.”3
Caregiving is a partnership
The bottom line is that the caregiver-patient relationship is a partnership. While the primary focus is the wellness of the patient, each party must also lookout for the welfare of the caregiver. It is critical for the caregiver to enjoy both physical and emotional health for the partnership to succeed.
Do you ever swear you smell smoke or cigarettes but there's nothing there?