Outside the world of paid work, the people most prone to burnout are caregivers – people who devote themselves to the unpaid care of chronically ill or disabled family members. The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel you have little control over the situation or that you’re in over your head.
If you let the stress of caregiving progress to burnout, it can damage both your physical and mental health. So if you’re caring for a family member, it’s essential that you get the support you need. The good news is that you’re not alone. Help for caregivers is available.
Family caregivers: What you should know about burnout
Providing care for a family member in need is a centuries-old act of kindness, love, and loyalty. And as life expectancies increase and medical treatments advance, more and more of us will participate in the caregiving process, either as the caregiver, the recipient of care, or possibly both.
Unfortunately, caregiving can take a heavy toll if you don’t get adequate support. Caregiving involves many stressors: changes in the family dynamic, household disruption, financial pressure, and the sheer amount of work involved. The rewards of caregiving – if they come at all – are intangible and far off, and often there is no hope for a happy outcome.
As the stress piles up, frustration and despair take hold and burnout becomes a very real danger. But you can prevent caregiver burnout by following a few essential guidelines:
- Learn as much as you can about your family member’s illness and about how to be a caregiver as you can. The more you know, the more effective you’ll be, and the better you’ll feel about your efforts.
- Know your limits. Be realistic about how much of your time and yourself you can give. Set clear limits, and communicate those limits to doctors, family members, and other people involved.
- Accept your feelings. Caregiving can trigger a host of difficult emotions, including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief. As long as you don’t compromise the well-being of the care receiver, allow yourself to feel what you feel.
- Confide in others. Talk to people about what you feel; don’t keep your emotions bottled up. Caregiver support groups are invaluable, but trusted friends and family members can help too. You may also benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor.
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