COPD Caregiver Perspectives - Strategies for Preventing Burnout or Resolving It
This is the second post in my series on COPD caregiver burnout. In the first one, we discussed the fact that caregiver burnout is a valid occurrence with concrete signs and symptoms. We also talked about the fact that it's important to learn how to recognize burnout so that you can deal with it effectively.
In this post, I'll offer you some strategies that can both help prevent burnout in the first place and also resolve it if it does occur. But let me begin by emphasizing that you have nothing to be ashamed of if you do experience caregiver burnout. Caregiving is a tough job and you are only human. So the first step is identifying that what you are feeling may be burnout and realizing that it's OK to feel that way. But to keep being an effective caregiver, you also need to learn how to move past burnout.
Strategies for Dealing with Caregiver Burnout
You can pick and choose from the following strategies, but the more you are able to use as a foundation, the healthier you will be.
1. Establish a strong support network for YOU. Make sure that the people who care for you know that you are relying on their support, love and assistance during these difficult times.
At the same time, joining a support group of other caregivers can be immensely comforting. Connecting with other people who know exactly what you are going through is extremely helpful, especially when family and friends are not supportive. You can also get tips and advice you might not have thought of on your own. Even online support groups or caregiver forums can be helpful.
Keeping a caregiver journal is another way of "sharing" your feelings that may provide some relief from stress.
2. Seek counseling. If you can't get "to a good place" on your own or with the help of a support group, professional counseling may enable you to deal with the natural feelings that come with caregiving, especially heavy-duty caregiving for a person whose mental and physical health is going downhill. There are many types of counselors, from psychiatrists to social workers to clergy. Find the one that is the best fit for you.
3. Take some time off. We all need to "get away" from the responsibility and the stress once in a while. Even if it's just for a short time period, say a few hours, it can be refreshing. Of course, I find that when you're a caregiver, the worry never quite goes away, but still getting out of the house does help. My husband and I go out after my mom goes to bed for the night to see a movie or go dancing and it really lowers the stress level.
You can even seek out what is called respite care, which is where someone else comes into your home to take over the caregiving duties for a few hours, a day or even a few days. Often, churches can offer respite services to their parishioners from fellow members. Or you can hire someone too.
Adult day care or home health care can be other options for respite care. Or, if leaving the home is just not a choice for you, this Area Agency on Aging website talks about ways to take a respite care break without leaving the home via respite videotapes.
4. Pamper yourself a little bit. Be your own caregiver. Do something special just for you. For example, take a short break each day to walk around the block or near the river like I do. Or take a hot bubble bath with candles and soft music while drinking a soothing cup of herbal tea. Or maybe meditate for 15 minutes or call a best friend on the phone to chat. The possibilities are endless -- the key is to figure out what relieves your stress and then make time to do it every day.
5. Protect your own health by living healthy. Eat a healthy balanced diet, with three to five meals a day. Make time for 30 minutes of exercise a day, even if it's just walking the dog or dancing to music in your own living room. Don't self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or smoking. Get plenty of sleep. Practice deep breathing and relaxation. Take care of yourself!
6. Learn how to be an effective caregiver. Read books, articles and websites about caregiving. A great one to start at is Caregiver.com. If you need to provide a lot of physical assistance to your loved one, read up on how to use proper body mechanics, so you can avoid injuring yourself. Adapt your home to encourage your loved one to stay as independent as possible and avoid making unnecessary demands on you and your time.
These are just a few suggestions to help you deal with the daily stresses and demands of caregiving as well as the long-term toll. It's not an easy job and it is sometimes thankless, but we don't need to sacrifice our own physical and mental health to caregiving. That's not good for us or the person we're caring for!