Caring for Yourself

Because some time away can benefit you both

Becoming a caregiver is one of the most selfless choices you can make. Each day, you balance the health and well-being of your loved one with everything else, especially your own needs.

But to take good care of someone else, you also need to take good care of yourself. So it’s important you schedule downtime for yourself regularly. While it may seem selfish, it’s not – it’s essential. Otherwise, you run the risk of burning out.

Symptoms of caregiver burnout

Caregivers who don’t take periodic breaks are more likely to get overwhelmed by their additional responsibilities and may suffer from symptoms including:

  • Feeling down most of the time
  • Feeling guilty or helpless
  • Losing pleasure in things you used to enjoy, such as reading, exercise or social events
  • Sleeping less or more than normal
  • Having a big rise or fall in appetite or weight
  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Feeling tired, weak or low in energy
  • Having trouble focusing, remembering or making decisions

Battling burnout

The best way to fight burnout is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Schedule breaks throughout the week to help you rest and recharge. Nothing elaborate; just a 15-minute walk can do wonders for your physical and mental energy. Some additional tips include:

  • Make regular arrangements for another family member or close friend to spend a few hours (perhaps once a week) with the person in your care. Then, spend the time doing something you enjoy, such as seeing a movie, dining out with friends or reading a book. If possible, try to leave town periodically, even if it’s just an overnight visit to see friends.
  • Find a therapist or local support group, and talk about the challenges you are facing as a caregiver. Not only will you have the opportunity to share your feelings, but you may also get ideas from others in similar situations.
  • Accept help when it’s offered – and be willing to ask for help when you need it. If family and friends are available, rely on them as needed. If not, consider an adult recreation center, faith-based senior program or hiring a part-time home health aide.
  • Accept your emotions. The stress of caregiving can be overwhelming at times. You may feel frustrated, sad or resentful. This isn’t a sign you’re doing something wrong; it’s completely normal. So accept those emotions as they come. However, if the feelings linger or become more than you can handle, talk to your doctor. You may be suffering from depression, which can and should be treated.
  • Know when it’s time to make a change. The time may come when you can no longer care for your parent safely. No matter the reason, it’s OK to make a change. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Changing the situation may in fact be the best decision for everyone.