Caring for the Caregiver
January 05, 2022
Submitted by Illinois CancerCare
“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
This quote from former First Lady Rosalynn Carter underscores the reality of a world in which all (or nearly all) fit into at least one of those caregiving categories. Mrs. Carter experienced this firsthand when she was 12 years old and her father was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells. As the oldest of four children, her mother relied on her to help care for her father throughout his terminal illness. Decades later, she founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers to support those informal, unpaid caregivers who respond to the needs of a spouse, child, parent, friend, or neighbor.
You may not consider yourself to be a caregiver, but if you’re tending to a loved one’s needs—running errands, preparing meals, taking them to doctor’s visits, scheduling appointments—while they’re going through a healthcare challenge, then you are a caregiver.
How Can You Avoid Caregiver Burnout?
Many caregivers push themselves to the point of exhaustion in their efforts to care for their loved ones. It’s important to recognize that when we add caregiving to our already full plate of responsibilities, we need to let other—less important—things go by the wayside. Otherwise, we risk burning out, which ultimately hurts us and reduces our ability to be the healthy, effective caregivers our loved ones need.
It’s critical to find a balance between serving others with love, without damaging our own physical and mental health in the process. Experts at Illinois CancerCare see the heroic love of caregivers daily and share signs of caregiver stress, symptoms of burnout, and tips to avoid both situations. Whether you’re a caregiver or are being cared for, we hope this information provides you with encouragement and guidance.
Signs of Caregiver Stress:
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irritability or overreacting to minor annoyances
- Exhaustion or persistent fatigue
- Trouble concentrating
- Neck or back pain
- Headaches or stomach distress
- Anxiety, depression, frustration
- Drinking, smoking, and/or eating more than usual
- Paying less attention to your own needs
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Cutting back on leisure activities
Tips to Avoid or Overcome Burnout:
- Emotional or physical exhaustion
- Overeating or not eating enough
- Changes in weight or health
- Neglecting your own physical or emotional needs
- Overlooking the needs of other family members
- Feeling unmotivated at work
- Difficulty relaxing
- Becoming impatient with the person being cared for
- Feeling helpless and frustrated
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Feeling increasingly resentful
- Get plenty of sleep
- Eat nutritious meals and keep healthy, energy-boosting snacks with you
- Make sure you’re not drinking or using drugs to escape your stress
- Reduce caffeine
- Get fresh air and exercise
- Shorten your To Do list, eliminating tasks that aren’t necessary
- Schedule time for your favorite activities
- Share your feelings with a trusted friend, loved one, or therapist
- Consider joining an online caregiver support group
- Recognize and accept human limitations—each person only has 24 hours in a day
- Most important, don’t feel guilty
Mrs. Carter says it best, “Caregiving is hard, even on the good days when it brings joy and fulfillment.”
We hope you’re encouraged by these words and want to remind you to take care of yourself, too. It’s the best way to make sure you’re healthy enough to continue being an awesome caregiver to those you love.
For more information on avoiding caregiver burnout, or for other caregiver tips please call 309-243-3435 pr visit our website at IllinoisCancerCare.com.
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