If you provide care for a family member, you know that this labor of love can take a toll on your mind and body. Caregiver burnout is the result of providing care without respite, often around-the-clock and for weeks or months on end. In addition to compromising your own health, you also risk the well-being of your loved one if you allow yourself to succumb to stress and fatigue. Fortunately, simple acts of self-care can keep this at bay.
Signs of Burnout
According to Vitas Healthcare, caregiver burnout can manifest in many ways.
- Weight fluctuation
- Lowered immunity to illness
- Social and emotional withdrawal
What You Can Do
There are many ways to lift the proverbial weight off your shoulders, and the most effective is to simply take a break from providing care. This could mean asking an adult sibling to help care for an aging parent, leaving a new baby with their father for an afternoon, or hiring a medical aid to sit with a disabled child while you take a nap.
If you would rather not outsource tasks relating directing to your charge, bring in a few service providers periodically to do things like mow the lawn, grocery shop, or clean the gutters. Enlist a housekeeping service once per month to tackle all the little things you’ve let go. HomeAdvisor estimates that this costs between $116 and $235, but it’s a small investment that can give you back a few hours to put yourself first for once.
Exercise, Sleep, and Stress
Constantly tending to the needs of others is stressful. Chronic stress has been linked to digestive issues, acne, anxiety, and a host of other physical and mental health conditions. Fortunately, you have two free tools at your disposal to keep stress at bay: sleep and exercise.
Sleep is the purest form of self-care, but it is perhaps the most essential. Sleep deprivation can affect your emotional well-being and change the way your brain processes incoming information. As SleepScore Labs explains in this post, sleep is also the time when your body flushes toxins, regenerates cells, and replenishes your energy levels. Make sleep a priority by going to bed at the same time as the person for whom you care. Avoid sleeping in the same room, since their tossing, turning, and snoring can create noise and distractions. Instead, utilize a baby monitor and go to your own room, where your bed should be outfitted with comfortable, breathable sheets, room-darkening curtains, and pillows that help you get into your ideal sleep position. Even if you can’t get a full eight hours each night, every extra 30 minutes you can fit into your schedule will do your mind and body good.
Just as important to your overall well-being as sleep is exercise. A quick 15-minute workout in the morning can get your day started off on the right foot. Exercise provides natural energy and stimulates the production of endorphins, which are hormones that make you feel good and that can combat the effects of cortisol, the brain chemical associated with stress. Parenting.com notes that there are even workouts you can do with your baby.
Self-care is crucial to your health, especially if you are a primary caregiver to an infant, elderly relative, or disabled child. Catering to your own needs does not have to mean spending a day at the spa or taking a lavish vacation. More than any of life’s luxuries, self-care is comprised of the small actions you do each day, such as sleeping and exercising, that keep your body and mind at their best. Remember that your health directly impacts your ability to care for those you love.
June Duncan is the co-creator of Rise Up for Caregivers, which offers support for family members and friends who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. She is the author of the upcoming book, The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers.
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