It is a selfless choice to serve as a family caregiver. Given the complex needs of their loved ones, it is understandable that caregivers experience high levels of stress and are at risk of burnout.
Caregivers are primarily concerned about the well-being of others and are often filled with remorse for things they have done or said during periods of stress and resentment. In addition, many family caregivers experience regret for career or life enhancing opportunities they rejected that would have brought satisfaction to their own lives.
Family caregivers can use practical coping strategies to recharge their caregiving energy while avoiding burnout as the life you save may be your own when the support you provide has never been more important than it is today.
Over 60 million Americans are currently providing some form of care for a family member who is aging, chronically ill, suffering with dementia, living with a life-long disability, or returning from war after injury. Here are five effective tips to sidestep burnout and provide quality care without regret.
1. Put chocolate in your pill box. Caregivers generally follow through with doctors' orders to avoid illness by taking their medicines as prescribed. Yet, these dedicated individuals remain highly susceptible to depression, disease and hypertension because they rarely provide themselves with rewards that release stress and develop the purpose for their lives beyond caregiving. Determine your special "chocolate" (which is a metaphor for something that provides ultimate joy) and dose yourself regularly so you create enduring satisfaction and success during the long journey of care.
2. Get those stressful thoughts out of your head and say YES to requests for support. Set a 5-10 minute time block at least once per week to deal with your stress. Make a list of all the issues rolling through your mind. Put the items on paper and make plans to address them. When a friend or family member asks how they can help, be prepared with this list of tasks that others can perform to lighten your load.
3. Schedule regular breaks. Caregivers can become so consumed with providing for their loved ones that they lose joy and satisfaction with their own lives. Seek assistance from friends, relatives or volunteers so you take a class, go to the gym, go on a date with your partner, or enjoy other fun recreational activities.
4. Use High Tech to Deliver High Touch. Free, easy-to-navigate systems to build support networks can be found at http://www.lotsahelpinghands.com/ or the family portal at http://www.seniorcaresociety.com/. Through these online communities, family caregivers can post vital medical and support information, use an online calendar to schedule volunteer assistance for activities/appointments, and send updates with just the click of a button. These tools can simplify the organizational process and provide a journaling vehicle for you to share key points along the caregiving journey.
5. Low Tech Packs a Punch, Too. Old school options such as calendars, post-it-notes, and dry erase boards are just as effective. Create an information binder for family, friends and volunteers so vital medical and support needs are at their fingertips. Houses of worship, service providers, or local volunteer organizations can be of assistance to building a super helpful and responsive support community for your family.
Remember, caregiving and living your own life in the process is a step by step journey. It is essential that caregivers thrive while providing quality support to their loved ones so they can experience the happiness, satisfaction, and success they so richly deserve.