Since December is National Caregiver Awareness month, it’s important to recognize that sometimes they need help too. The word caregiver refers to an unpaid individual who assists another sick or disabled individual. Commonly caregivers are family members but can also be close family friends. You are considered a caregiver if you do any of the following:
- Take care of someone who has a chronic illness or disease.
- Manage medications or talk to doctors and nurses on someone’s behalf.
- Help bathe or dress someone who is frail or disabled.
- Take care of household chores, meals, or bills for someone who cannot do these things alone.
Being a caregiver for a loved one is a tremendous responsibility and at times can be intimidating and stressful. Because it is a stressful task it is important to avoid caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude—from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need or if they try and do more than they are able. (Source: WebMD)
Symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to depression; they include:
- Withdrawal from social contacts
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless
- Changes in appetite, weight, or both
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Excessive use of alcohol and/or sleep medications
- Feeling guilty for spending anytime on themselves
The demands are often high for caregivers and can take a toll of the mind, body, and emotions making tasks feel overwhelming. That overwhelming feeling can lead to fatigue and helplessness which in turn causes burnout. Other causes of burnout include:
- Role confusion- Many people are confused when pushed into the caregiver role and have a hard time separating caregiver role with the original role of spouse, lover, child, friend, etc.
- Unrealistic expectations- Many caregivers expect their involvement to have a positive effect on the health of the patient.
- Lack of control- Many caregivers become frustrated by the lack of money, resources, and skills to effectively plan, manage, and organize their loved one’s care.
- Unreasonable demands- Some caregivers place unreasonable burdens upon themselves.
- Other factors- Many caregivers cannot recognize when they are suffering from burnout and eventually get to a point where they cannot function effectively.
Caregiver burnout is preventable. Here are some tips on how you can avoid burning out.
- Don’t try and handle everything on your own. Set realistic goals and expectations. Accept the fact that you may need help. Maximize your support by finding resources available through local and national cancer organizations, community groups, health professionals, and the government.
- Talk to others. Find someone you trust and openly discuss your concerns and fears. Talking to others relieves stress and can give a new perspective on things.
- Don’t forget about yourself. It’s important to maintain your social connections. Having social support can have major health benefits and help you maintain your quality of life. Do not feel guilty for doing things for yourself.
- Stay healthy. Make a conscious effort to eat right, exercise regularly and get at least seven hours of sleep a night.
- Know your limits. It’s okay to take a time out from an overwhelming situation. Giving yourself a break, even for 15 minutes a day, will help increase you efficiency as a caregiver.
- Educate yourself. Learn about the specific type of cancer that the person you are caring for has. Information is empowering. The more you know about the disease and the resources available, the better prepared you will be physically and mentally to take on the challenges ahead.
(Source: Huffington Post: How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout)
FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital’s FirstHealth Cancer Services offers various support groups that available to patients and their caregivers. These support groups are a great place to give a voice to your feelings and learn that you are not alone. For more information regarding support groups at FirstHealth please call (910) 715-2298. FirstHealth provides treatment and support to patients, survivors, and their loved ones in the Pinehurst, Raeford, Sanford, Lumberton, Laurinburg, Rockingham, and Troy regions of North Carolina and beyond.