9 ways to banish burnout
If you’re caring for someone who depends on you, you need to be at your best— healthy and energetic. Yet the sheer amount of time and thought involved in providing care may mean you’ve put yourself at the bottom of your priority list. To see whether you need to shift priorities, check off any question you can answer yes to:
- Have I put off my own medical checkups, dental appointments or eye exams?
- Have I drifted away from friends and family members? Do I feel isolated?
- Do I often feel rundown or physically drained?
- Do I get colds or headaches easily?
- Am I sometimes teary, emotional, angry or stressed?
- Am I eating too much or too little? Do I eat too many unhealthy foods?
- Am I drinking alcohol more than I should or taking needless medications?
- Am I having problems sleeping?
- If you checked off one or more questions, you may be putting your own health at risk.
When you consider what it takes to be a caregiver, it’s a wonder—and a blessing—so many Americans make the sacrifice. Fortunately, the time and commitment involved haven’t deterred an army of 52 million Americans who provide informal (read: unpaid) care to friends and loved ones. In taking on this responsibility, caregivers often find themselves juggling several duties, including those of healthcare provider (administering medication or taking blood pressure), companion, decision maker, bill payer, house cleaner and health advocate. It’s not surprising when caregivers find their own health suffering. Sacrificing emotional and physical health over too long a period can lead to illness and depression.
Studies show the average caregiver provides nearly 18 to 20 hours of care a week in addition to holding down a job and managing a family. That’s a recipe for stress and burnout unless you take precautions to protect your health. Try following these nine steps to get you on the road to better wellness.
1. Get medical checkups. Keep up with your health appointments—they’re important. Tell your doctor about your care-giving commitment—he or she may suggest resources that can make your life easier.
2. Get plenty of rest. Sleep deprivation contributes to feelings of depression. Get help with chores so you can get to bed at a reasonable hour. Ask for help if caring for someone causes you to scrimp on sleep or get up throughout the night. Have a family member pinch-hit (or hire a respite worker) while you sneak in a nap.
3. Eat a nutritious diet. Fast food, junk food or no food can be tempting when you’re short on time but may lead to malnourishment and fatigue. Regular, well-balanced meals boost your energy. Ask family members to help with shopping and meal preparation. Double up on favorite recipes and freeze half to save for a busy day.
4. Get regular exercise. Exercise strengthens your bones and muscles, improves your flexibility (extra important if caregiving involves frequent bending or lifting) and reduces your risk for diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. Moderate exercise also combats stress, increases your energy and provides a mental-health break.
5. Manage your stress. Prolonged stress can increase your risk for disease and easily lead to depression. Meditate or learn relaxation techniques such as visualization to unwind. Share your feelings with friends and family members. Ask your doctor for advice or a referral to a counselor.
6. Ask for help. Don’t try to be a superhero! Let family members help. Assign tasks such as paying bills, picking up prescriptions, doing laundry or driving to doctors’ appointments. Ask your doctor about local resources such as transportation to medical checkups, home-delivered meals, respite care or adult day-care services.
7. Schedule time for yourself. Schedule time to enjoy your hobbies or try new ones. Spend time with friends and family members. Try a change of scenery—take a short drive or see a play or concert.
8. Be realistic and flexible. Accept that your loved one’s illness may change from week to week. Try to be flexible as you make plans for the future. Acknowledge the many good things you’ve done and don’t be hard on yourself for not being able to do everything on your own.
9. Give up bad habits. Smoking, drinking or resorting to drugs you don’t need can ruin your health, impair your judgment and potentially hurt you, your loved one in need of care or your friends and family members. Get help if you need to quit. Providing care to a loved one, though challenging, can be enormously rewarding—but first you have to take good care of yourself.