If you are one of the more than 40 million Americans providing care to an elderly parent or loved one, you will likely (if you haven’t already) experience caregiver burnout. Half of caregivers report having difficulty balancing work with their care-giving responsibilities, and at least 20% experience some form of depression. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can be brought on by many factors including too much long-term stress, not enough help from others, a feeling of being spread too thin, and a drain on financial resources.
Warning signs of caregiver burnout can include feeling overwhelmed, or constantly worried; feeling unusually tired; sleeping too much, or too little; feeling predominantly sad, frustrated, or angry; losing interest in activities you once enjoyed; and gaining or losing a lot of weight. If you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing is caregiver burnout, consider taking this short evaluation.
If you recognize this behavior in yourself, consider trying some or all of the following suggestions:
- Join a Support Group. Caregivers need to make connections and feel supported by others who can understand your situation. You may be able to find in-person support groups offered by your local senior center, library, or even senior living community. If physically attending a meeting is too difficult to manage with all of your other responsibilities, consider an online support group.
- Take Advantage of Respite Care. It’s easier to take care of others when you’ve taken care of yourself first. Structured timeouts for caregivers, known as respite care, can range from informal arrangements with friends or family members to longer-term contracts with professional agencies.
- Exercise. We’re all aware of the physical benefits of regular exercise, but did you know that it also improves your mental health as well? Exercising releases chemicals that that promote relaxation, reduces stress and anxiety, and lowers your risk of depression. Aim for thirty minutes a day and consider walking, taking an exercise class, or doing a short circuit in your home.
- Nurture Your Relationships. Whether it’s lunch out with a friend or a dinner date with your spouse, be sure to spend time with people that make you happy and that care about your well-being. Spending time with friends and loved ones has been shown to increase one’s sense of purpose, reduce stress, and improve one’s ability to cope during tough times.
If you’ve tried the above suggestions and still feel like your mental or physical health is suffering, please talk with your doctor immediately. For more caregiving resources, visit AARP.