Caregiving takes time, energy, flexibility and intelligence to perform well each day and often results in caregiver burnout. The job frequently gets no thanks. Caregivers tend to give generously of themselves to others. They feed, clothe, bathe, drive and educate others, often for many hours a day. But even the most dedicated caregiver, perhaps especially the most dedicated ones, must set limits on their caregiving experience to avoid caregiver burnout. It is helpful to discover and identify a caregiver’s own needs and how to navigate them while caring for a senior.
Staying in touch with yourself
Caregiving consumes time and energy, but it should not take all of them. Focus on what you feel and enjoy, check yourself daily through journaling, chat with a friend by phone, or take a walk alone. Identify areas of tension or stress in body or mind and work on them. Maintain your activities, such as a yoga class, political organization, or a church group commitment. By checking yourself and maintaining your activities you recall that you are more than a caregiver. Widening your focus to include yourself as an active part of your life keeps you from being consumed by the stress of caregiving and succumbing to caregiver burnout. The more you remember, include and celebrate yourself, the more you can do the same for others because you reduce stress and derive energy from things you love.
Reach for other hands
Caregiving is best done with a team. Although you may provide the bulk of care for a senior, it does not mean that others cannot help. This could mean intermittently running errands for you, providing care for your loved one, or helping pay for respite care while you rest or vacation with family. Speaking with other persons in the circle of care, requesting help when needed, and planning for breaks keeps you fresh and rested, which makes you attentive and at the top of your game.
Separate your needs
Dave Nassaney notes in his caregiving blog that caregivers sometimes confuse their needs with those of the person in their care. This is one of the main causes of caregiver burnout. Like a parent potty-training a toddler, caregivers must provide certain things for the senior they care for. However, personal experiences can make people act in ways that do not put the senior first. When you encounter a stressful caregiving moment, consider the immediate needs of the person in your care. Are they unsafe? Have they eaten, bathed and taken medications properly? What is the sequence of the steps to be taken? The answers remove much emotion from caregiving with two effects: it helps evaluate the situation without emotion clouding judgment and it forces you to prioritize. By removing emotion and re-centering the needs of a senior, you may avoid conflicts and attend to their needs first.
Caregiving can recall many past emotions, some good, some bad and some that don’t cause change in our lives. Staying in touch with your emotions and honoring those emotions helps provide better care. Setting limits enables one to recognize and control what emotions make you do. For many persons, caring for someone they love–parent, spouse or other relative–can bring up stress or frustration from years of knowing each other. Find effective ways to deal with these emotions. You may need time alone or someone to be close who is not connected to your caregiving or you may find comfort talking with the person in your care. There is nothing wrong with recognizing that you struggle while giving care. These are normal reactions and sharing your emotions from these experiences can improve your caregiving and strengthen your relationships.
Caregivers must know if limit is being reached or needs adjusting
This can also mean detecting when your needs supersede those of a senior in your care. For example, you may not be a good caregiver if you do not care for your own health. Making sure you eat properly, get the required medical attention, and exercise are steps caregivers should take to provide good care. These are physical needs, not including mental, emotional, and intellectual needs. If you cannot maintain your health while providing care, asking others for help is a sound step. Not caring for your own needs can put your health in danger and endanger the health of the senior or cause strife in your relationship.
A caregiver should always first ensure their own safety and that of the person in their care. An important part of safety is knowing when the limit is being reached and that steps should be taken to avoid it. In that case, a caregiver would be wise to ask if they should set different limits in their caregiving life.
Huysman, Jamie. Setting and Crossing Boundaries. United Healthcare, 2016. Available at https://www.uhc.com/health-and-wellness/blogs/james-huysman/2016/setting-boundaries. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
Nassaney, Dave. Setting Limits to Caregiving. DavetheCaregiversCaregiver.com, December 13, 2016. Available at http://www.davethecaregiverscaregiver.com/setting-limits-to-caregiving/. Retrieved February 4, 2016.