Helpful Strategies for Avoiding Burnout During Caregiving

Listen to your friends

If those around you have observed a change in your behavior or demeanor, take a minute and think whether what they are saying might me true. The first step in resolving burnout is to recognize that you are suffering form it. Be open to the observations of others.

Let go

No one person can do everything. Acknowledge that in your humanness you have limitations. Allow others to help; delegate responsibilities. Practice asking for help and learn to say "no" occasionally. Lower your expectations of yourself and others; your health and well-being are more important than perfectionist caregiving. Set your priorities and guard your own personal time.

Focus on your loved one's strength

Build on strengths and capabilities that remain. Rather than focus on what your loved one cannot do, allow him or her to do whatever is still possible, even if the doing is slower than you might want or not as well done as you might like.

Learn relaxation techniques

Find some sort of relaxation outlet that works for you: exercising, listening to music, meditation, taking a walk, gardening, reading a book, taking a nap, talking with a friend. If necessary, find a nondestructive way to vent your very real frustrations.

Take care of your health

If you ignore your own health you won't be much help to your loved one. Research indicates that situations of increased stress can lead to many unhealthful habits such as smoking, drinking, unwise drug use, overeating. It is essential that you maintain healthful eating, sleeping, and exercising habits and that you see a doctor when necessary

Maintain a life outside your caregiving role

The role of caregiving can swallow you up. Develop new hobbies or skills, take classes that provide intellectual stimulation and personal growth. Keep regular contact with other people.

Keep a "burnout" role

Regularly record those events in your life that create stress. In a few weeks you will be able to identify your particular stressors, evaluate the situations and consider possible solutions.

Build a caregiving team

It is not necessary to face caregiving all alone. Ask close family members, other relatives and friends for assistance even if you think they won't want to help. Have family brainstorming sessions to gather ideas that will only come out of group discussion. Work with the doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists and clergy to find workable solutions to your problems. Learn to trust others to help you

Rely on your sense of humor

Somehow laughter can warm the bleakest of situations. Whenever possible, look for the humorous side of the situation. Rent some funny videos, talk over funny memories. A good chuckle will make a real difference.

Appreciate the benefits of leisure time

Savoring leisure is not selfish — it is life-affirming. How did you spend your leisure time before you became a caregiver? Can you adapt some of your former activities to include your loved one? Time constraints, other obligations and guilt may make leisure time difficult to find, so be creative.

Find a support group

You may be struggling with so many confusing feelings: fear, frustration, anger, isolation, resentment, sadness, grief and so on. A support group can provide you with an appropriate place to work through those feelings. People who have similar situations can be an incredible source of support for one another simply because they understand.  Shared tears and laughter help make burdens lighter.

Seek professional help

If you have tried many of these suggestions to little or no avail, consider working with a therapist who specializes in stress reduction families with chronic illness.  A counselor may be able to help you vent your feelings in a safe, non-judgmental environment. He or she may also be able to increase your awareness of unrealistic expectations and teach you new coping strategies.

Appreciate your own efforts

The best caregiving in the world will not change the outcome of many illnesses. Frustration about your powerlessness in these situations can contribute to feelings of burnout. Rather than belaboring yourself for your inability to cure what is incurable, draw strength and comfort from what you can do. You can provide dignity, care and love. You cannot control the outcome.