A funny thing happened on the way to caregiver burnout.

Mary BartJennifer is into her fourth year as a full-time caregiver to her husband (who has suffered several strokes) and also to her mother who has extreme arthritis and mobility issues.  Jennifer’s best friend Liz noticed that Jennifer has not been her old self lately.  Something has changed. Liz wondered if Jennifer was starting to show signs of caregiver burnout.  After doing some basic research, Liz decided to talk about caregiver burnout with Jennifer.  They quickly realized that Jennifer was well on her way to being completely burnt out.  They worked on a plan to help Jennifer fight caregiver burnout and thought it would be a good idea to add some humour to their plan.  They had always enjoyed each other’s sense of humour, so why not bring that into the plan?

Let’s take a look at some of the issues and the funnier side about caregiver burnout that Jennifer and Liz discovered.

Caregiver Burnout Warning Signs

You may be burning out if you are:

  • More easily frustrated or irritated. You lose your temper faster. You explode or overreact to minor issues. You snap at everyone over anything.  Both Liz and Jennifer giggled thinking if these were caregiver burnout symptoms or just menopause.
  • Depressed and anxious;
  • Feeling sad and alone. Gosh, sometimes all Jennifer wants is to be alone. What is wrong with being alone she laughed?
  • Always worrying. It could be financial issues or thinking things will never change. Have you turned into a “Worry Wart”?
  • Lacking energy and are feeling run down or always exhausted;
  • Feeling guilty that either you should be doing more or knowing that you are neglecting others in your life, including yourself. Or, is the guilt simply because you are Catholic or Jewish, Liz wondered?;
  • Resenting your caregiving duties or the person receiving your care;
  • Thinking of ways to harm your care recipient. There is nothing funny about this;
  • Getting sick. You don’t take care of yourself. You are missing your own appointments, including regular doctor and dentist appointments;
  • Participating less in regular physical exercise. Jennifer laughed, when she thought about how much money she was saving by not renewing her club membership;
  • Having trouble focusing or concentrating and feeling overwhelmed;
  • Crying excessively;
  • Experiencing decreased self-worth or self-confidence;
  • Using too much alcohol, food, or other substances. Remember, people do like to gossip.
  • Neglecting responsibilities. Perhaps you are too overwhelmed to file taxes or take care of your pets. What is that growing in your refrigerator?
  • Spending less time with your own friends and family and becoming more socially isolated;
  • Getting sick more often. Perhaps your immune system is compromised;
  • Always tired and having trouble sleeping. Perhaps you are sleeping too much;
  • Noticing that you can’t or don’t take the time to relax;
  • Feeling trapped. The situation is helpless and hopeless. Nothing will ever be better; and
  • Having weight changes – either up or down. Why is the mirror, no longer my friend? Jennifer was starting to think that she would look great in expandable, elastic-waisted pants – NOT.

Preventing Caregiver Burnout:

  1. Call a friend. Set up a regular schedule with someone with whom you can enjoy a quick conversation (either on-line or on the phone). Doing this regularly for 15 minute will boost your spirits.  Jennifer agrees that this simple tip will guarantee to put a smile on your face.
  2. Become more knowledgeable about the medical issues you are dealing with, how better take care of yourself and how to improve your caregiving skills. Remember, it just not socially acceptable to be known as an ostrich with their head in the sand.
  3. Ask for help. You cannot sustain caregiving on your own. It takes a village to truly care give well. Develop your village.
  4. Accept help. Don’t think you are the only person who cares. The care offered by others may not be exactly the way you would do something. Who knows, it might even be better than what you are doing.  You might actually learn something from others.
  5. Set boundaries. Don’t let caregiving consume you. It can be a bottomless pit and ruin everything in your life (including relationships, quality of life, careers and happiness).  Set limits to what you can do well.  Remember Nancy Reagan’s favorite expression: “Just say no”.  Try it, it just might work.
  6. Communicate. You need to let your family, friends and the medical personnel that you deal with know what you need and what you are prepared to do. Life is all about setting expectations. Clearly let people know what they can expect from you.  Add some humour to what you need from others.  Say something like:  Look, I only have two hands, I need eight.  I am not an octopus.
  7. Be Social. Staying social is a key to your sanity. It will help you have greater balance in your life. Even meeting a friend for coffee will lift your spirits and bring greater perspective to your caregiving. Staying social will be a sure way to bring more laughter into your life.
  8. Find Support Groups. Look for them both on-line and in your community. They are great ways to gain peer support, learn about local resources and they remind you know that you are not alone
  9. Escape when you can. Surviving caregiving requires that you find ways to take breaks. Look for local respite services that can relieve you for an hour or even a half-day once a week.  Investigate adult day care centres and seniors’ home that accept short term stays for care recipients.  On your way out to escape, don’t look back.  Just keep going.

Jennifer thinks fondly of the wonderful TV ad from a major home furnishings retailer with the lady loaded down with bags, running out of the store, screaming:  “Start the Car”.  That is what escaping for a caregiver feels like.

  1. Take care of yourself. Caregiving is a journey; it may last for many years. Remember to take care of your health. If you don’t take care of yourself, chances are someone will be taking care of you. That would be even scarier than being a caregiver.

Make sure to:

  • Eat well
  • Get enough sleep
  • Do some daily physical exercise
  • Don’t over eat or drink
  1. It is better to give than receive. Give some of your caregiver responsibilities to others. See if there are local services or family and friends who can help share the caregiving. Don’t take on more work than you can handle.
  2. Get Organized. Create a system to manage medical appointments, pay bills, buy groceries and medical products. Buy colourful, cheerful binders, note pads and sticky notes with happy faces and funny expressions.
  3. It’s all about me. Can you image a caregiver saying that? Think about what you need and act on it at least one hour a day. This daily commitment to yourself requires planning and then maximizing your “self-time”.  This may be an extra-long bath, getting a pedicure or just watching something on TV.  Whatever it is, it is happening because you planned for it.
  4. Try sayingReally?” This is a great way to deal with things that you don’t agree with at all. Instead of arguing, say “Really?” with a smile and see the reaction you get. A simple word and a smile goes along way to helping control a situation.  Try it, really.

Can you learn from Jennifer and Liz?  Why not create your own plan to fight caregiver burnout.  A plan that helps you recognize the signs of burnout and ways to prevent it.  A plan that includes humour and laughter, no joking of course.


By:  Mary Bart, Chair, Caregiving Matters




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