November is National Family Caregivers Month, the beginning of the holiday season when stress tends to run higher and more emotions get thrown into the fray of family gatherings. If you’re a caregiver, you are at a greater risk of not taking care of yourself or adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms to mounting stress. Lily Sarafan, chief operating officer and president of Home Care Assistance, recommends turning your care onto yourself to avoid burnout and better deal with stress.
Caregivers suffer health problems, too
According to Sarafan, most caregiver stress stems from the discrepancy between what you feel you should do and what you can reasonably handle. Research shows that caregivers are at a higher risk of engaging in negative health behaviors, such as smoking, eating fast food, and drinking soft drinks. “In fact, 23% of family caregivers caring for loved ones for five years or more report their own health is fair or poor,” Sarafan adds.
How to cope with caregiver burnout
1. Acknowledge burnout
Sarafan says it is important to recognize that you are burned out. She describes burnout as “you are feeling pessimistic and dissatisfied, you have decreased energy or emotional exhaustion and are withdrawing from friends or social interactions, you have loss of interest in work or enjoyable activities,you have increased use of alcohol or medication to relax, you are noticeably becoming impatient, irritable, or argumentative, you have a lowered resistance to illness.
Even though you are in a position of closely tending to a loved one, you also need to take care of your health — for yourself as well as to be able to adequately be a caregiver. “This means time for yourself every day to sleep, exercise, read, shop, or meditate; whatever you like to do,” suggests Sarafan.
3. Find a caregiver support group
Call your local senior center, area Agency on Aging, hospital senior services, physician, or church, and get into a support group for caregivers. You’ll make friends and have people to turn to that can relate to the stress and situations you encounter.
It’s normal to have conflicting emotions as a caregiver. Sarafan recommends writing down what you feel and learn to accept the good and the bad. “You might even start your own caregiving blog, a good medium for expression that also serves the pro-social purpose of letting family caregivers know they are not alone,” she adds.
You’re bound to experience frustrating situations every day as a caregiver. Sarafan encourages you to find the humor in the present situation. It’s amazing what this small exercise can do for perception.