Tips for Preventing Caregiver Burnout and Managing Stress

Alison van Schie

Tips for Preventing Caregiver Burnout and Managing Stress

Alison van Schie

When I think of caregiver burnout I think of overwhelming stress that builds to the point of crippling exhaustion. I think of the pressure cooker analogy where steam continues to build and, if the venting valve is blocked, the cooker blows rendering it useless with a disastrous mess to clean. When a pressure cooker operates effectively, the pressure valve allows steam to be released regularly.

Caring for your loved one involves so much more than providing care; it includes your worries, anxieties, losses, anger, and guilt. It also includes your time, your energy, and often your finances. Caregiving needs can vary from support with daily activities and chores to more complicated levels of physical support and supervision (as is the case for dementia caregivers who are tasked with monitoring all activities for safety and to prevent wandering). All of these care scenarios can take their toll on you, dear caregiver.

I would not wish the pressure cooker situation on any family caregiver. Fortunately, it is entirely possible to prevent caregiver burnout and stress. By looking at each unique caregiving situation, we can identify where “steam” can be vented.

I recently asked a group of caregivers for their tips on preventing caregiver stress and burnout. Perhaps one or more of their self-care strategies could apply to your life:

  • Be honest about your feelings.
  • Share your feelings with someone you trust.
  • Ask for help.
  • Get out of the house and do something else; get away.
  • Participate in a fitness class.
  • Give yourself permission to take a break. This could mean not going to visit your loved one in care, or finding someone to stay with your loved one while you go out.
  • Have a glass of wine. (But please drink responsibly.)
  • Follow your pre-COVID routine as closely as possible.
  • Take care of your health first (i.e. eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, breathe deeply, monitor your own health, listen to your doctor, etc.).
  • Let your loved one do the things he/she can still do for him/herself. Even if it takes longer and may not be done to your standards, it has a two-fold benefit: to maintain their skills and to make it so there’s one less thing for you to do.
  • Pray or meditate.
  • Listen to music.
  • Share tasks with others when possible.
  • Stay involved with things that interest you even if it has to be scaled back. For example, if you love to travel the best you can do now is to take a ‘vacation in your mind’ by looking through travel magazines.
  • Join a support group either online or in person.
  • Find respite care either formal or informal. Time away can help you better manage your stress and be a better caregiver.
  • Find caregiver resources in your community, and access the ones that relate to your situation.
  • Let go of housework. Instead, use any time you would spend on household chores doing something that brings you pleasure (unless vacuuming or dusting brings you pleasure). Read a book, make a phone call, take a bath, tinker in the garage, do whatever it is you like to do. And finally;
  • Focus on the good moments.

Are you providing care alone? Or are you so immersed in your caregiving that you are unable to modulate your worries? If you answered yes, it’s time to ask for help. It can help to get someone else’s perspective on your stress level. And it’s more than okay to talk to someone about your innermost worries and feelings.

Related: Learn how to identify caregiver burnout and ways to cope

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