"Pull Up Your Boot Straps!"
Or how about, 'put on your big girl panties'? Or what about 'suck it up'? Ever heard any of these terms or maybe even had someone direct them to you? I know I have. I was raised with this idea that you just need to keep going and work hard no matter the cost. What I wasn't told was how much that could impact my mental health which, in time, it most certainly did! I am talking about burnout. Specifically directed at caregivers and how it impacts their lives. We hear more and more about the term 'burnout', but what is it really?
Burnout is defined in Webster's dictionary as 'exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. Does this sound familiar? I know I could as little as a year ago. I was feeling tired all the time, but a different kind of tired than what I was used to. I had a difficult time concentrating and putting thoughts together. I had insomnia, anxiety, short temper and at times I felt as if I was having almost like an out of body experience. I was not really there mentally or emotionally while I was having a conversation with someone. I found it difficult to concentrate on the simplest of tasks.
This can happen to virtually anyone. No matter gender, race, socio-economic status, age, we are all susceptible to burn out, Some signs and symptoms that you may be headed for burn out:
Anxiety, depression, irritability
Feeling tired and run down
Overreacting to minor nuisances
New or worsening health problems
Feeling increasingly resentful
Drinking, smoking, or eating more
Cutting back on leisure activities
Know that there is something you can do to prevent it from happening to you. Take care of yourself first and foremost! I know, I know, how when I am needed to do so many things for others? How, when my boss has such high expectations of me? How, when my children need me to care for them, take them to their activities, help with their homework, etc. How, when my spouse/partner needs my support? How, when my loved one needs me to care for them?
There is so much that can be expected of you and your family members need you to be there for them. But, who is there for you? If you don't put yourself first, with time you will be no good to any of the people in your life. Remember the flight instructions before you take off on an airplane? Put YOUR oxygen mask on first. The same applies in your life. Put yourself first if you want to be there for others.
Here are some ways that you can do just that and hopefully live a less stressed and more fulfilled life:
Focus on the things you can control - You can’t wish for more hours in the day or force your brother to help out more. Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, focus on how you choose to react to problems.
Celebrate the small victories - If you start to feel discouraged, remind yourself that all your efforts matter. Don’t underestimate the importance of making your loved one feel more safe, comfortable, and loved!
Applaud your own efforts - If you’re not getting external validation, find ways to acknowledge and reward yourself. Remind yourself of how much you are helping. Try making a list of all the ways your caregiving is making a difference. Refer back to it when you start to feel low.
Talk to a supportive family member or friend - Don’t expect friends and family members to automatically know what you need or how you’re feeling. Be up front about what’s going on with you.
Look into respite care - Enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or watch your loved one so you can take a well-deserved break. Or you can explore out-of-home respite programs such as an adult day program.
Spread the responsibility - Try to get as many family members involved as possible. Even someone who lives far away can help. You may also want to divide up caregiving tasks.
Say “yes” when someone offers assistance - Don’t be shy about accepting help. Let people feel good about supporting you. It’s smart to have a list ready of small tasks that others could easily take care of, such as picking up groceries or driving your loved one to an appointment.
Share your feelings - The simple act of expressing what you're going through can be very therapeutic. Sharing your feelings with others won't make you a burden. In fact, most people will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them.
Maintain your personal relationships - Don’t let your friendships get lost in the shuffle of caregiving. These relationships will help sustain you and keep you positive. If it’s difficult to leave the house, invite friends over to visit with you over coffee, tea, or dinner.
Take care of your own health - It’s easy to forget about your own health when you’re busy with a loved one’s care. Don’t skip check-ups or medical appointments. You need to be healthy in order to take good care of your family member.
Laugh :) - Laughter is an excellent antidote to stress—and a little goes a long way. Read a funny book, watch a comedy, or call a friend who makes you laugh. And whenever you can, try to find the humour in everyday situations.
Prioritize activities that bring you enjoyment - Make regular time for hobbies that bring you happiness, whether it’s reading, working in the garden, listening to music, knitting, playing with the dogs, or watching sports.
Get out of the house. Seek out friends, family, and respite care providers to step in with caregiving so you can have some time away from the home.
Exercise - Exercise is a powerful stress reliever and mood enhancer. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes on most days—break it up into three 10-minute sessions if that's easier. When you exercise regularly, you’ll also find it boosts your energy level and helps you fight fatigue.
Seek out professional help to assist you - Hire someone to assist you with your daily tasks, stay with your loved one so you can have a break, provide you with emotional support, advocate for what you need, help you navigate what programs and services are available.
Join a caregiver support group - these are free and offer the option of in-person or online. The organization links below both offer support groups for caregivers.
There are many things in life that bring us stress and challenge us. Caring for someone can be a challenging and sometimes thankless job. But it can also be a rewarding one. Make it a priority to seek out help, either someone close to you or a professional. You shouldn't go through this caregiver journey alone.
If you are a caregiver and need help, please reach out to us. We are here to help. There are also great non-profit organizations that are here to help you. Here are a couple that I have worked with throughout my career and highly recommend: