Caregiver Burnout Prevention: 5 Easy Self-Care Activities to Do Daily
Nearly 40 million Americans identify as caregivers. While most caregivers feel their role gives them a sense of purpose, the role of caring for another person full-time or part-time can become exhausting and stressful. When caregivers fail to address that stress, they are at risk for caregiver burnout.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout happens when a caregiver feels physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Caregivers are at risk for burnout when they don’t get the help they need or take time for self-care.
Guilt is another common factor. Many caregivers feel guilty when they spend time on themselves rather than their family members. Caregivers who feel burned out can experience a wide range of negative emotions:
What Causes Caregiver Burnout?
Caregivers are sometimes so busy caring for others that they neglect their own emotional and physical well-being. More than any single factor, not caring for their own needs is what causes caregiver burnout. Many caregivers simply place unreasonable demands upon themselves, especially in situations where they don’t have much control, such as when they’re supporting an individual with a progressive illness like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Caregivers may also have unrealistic expectations about their ability to make their relative, friend or care recipient happy.
What Are Some Common Signs of Caregiver Burnout?
Potential symptoms of caregiver burnout include:
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities
- Feelings of sadness, irritability, and hopelessness
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Sleep disturbances
- Feeling tempted to self-harm
- Physical or mental exhaustion
Caregiver Burnout Statistics
Statistics from the latest “AARP Caregiving in the U.S.” report on caregiver burnout are sobering:
- Over the past five years, more than 40 million family caregivers provided 37 billion hours of care
- Nearly seven in 10 caregivers feel highly or moderately emotionally stressed
- Twenty to 40 percent of all caregivers have depression
- Around half of the caregivers who provide Alzheimer’s care feel high emotional stress levels
- One out of five caregivers for adults feels alone much of the time
- Seventy-two percent of caregivers who feel alone report high emotional stress levels
Despite these alarming figures, nine out of 10 caregivers say that even considering the stress, caring for their family members is a worthwhile experience. Most caregivers report that positive emotions often coexist with emotions like isolation, stress, or strain. More than half of caregivers feel their role gives them a sense of purpose.
So how do you handle all the stress while maintaining your rewarding position as a caregiver? It’s simple: you need to care for yourself not just on occasion, but every day. The good news is that there are easy self-care practices that can relieve stress, improve mental well-being and, ultimately, stave off burnout.
Caregiver Burnout Prevention: 5 Self-Care Ideas
Even a few minutes a day can make a big difference. These five self-care activities are simple, quick, and effective. Do them daily and you’ll be in a better position to care for yourself and your care recipient.
1. Breathing Exercises
Promote deep relaxation through “breath awareness” exercises. Ten minutes a day can make a positive difference. Harvard Medical School suggests this simple technique:
- Find a comfortable place to sit, like a soft chair or cushion
- Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath
- If you feel distracting thoughts, just let them pass and gently bring attention back to your breathing
- Take five deep breaths: First, slowly breathe in through your nose. Next, hold and pause for five counts. Finally, exhale for five counts. Repeat this process five times in a row
- Continue for ten minutes
To deepen your relaxation, count as you breathe or try repeating a phrase in your mind: “I breathe in calm and relaxing energy” or “I am breathing out my anxiety and tension.”
When you become skilled at deep breathing, work toward a goal of exhaling twice as long as you inhale. Work toward ten full counts.
2. Quick Escapes
Spend a few minutes a day engaging in an enjoyable activity that has nothing to do with caregiving. Set aside time for activities that you enjoyed before you became a caregiver, or indulge in something new.
You could read a few chapters of a novel, take a bubble bath in the middle of the day, watch an episode of a favorite comedy or even just doodle while you savor a cup of tea or coffee.
The important thing is to dedicate a chunk of time each day to do something that has no purpose other than giving you a break. You might be surprised how much better you’ll feel knowing that you have a little “time off” coming your way each day.
3. Connect with Friends or Family
Caregiving can feel lonely and caregivers sometimes refrain from “burdening” their friends and family with their experiences. In reality, the people who care about you would likely love to help in some way.
Spend a few minutes each day to make a social connection. It could be a quick email to a friend you haven’t seen in a while, a phone call or even a text. Reaching out to others just feels good. Studies show that when you make a connection with friends, your brain produces the hormone oxytocin, which can give you a sense of calm and helps to tamp down stress hormones.
If you’re still feeling hesitant, imagine what you’d say to a friend if the situation were reversed. You’d probably encourage them to reach out to you; there’s a good chance your friends feel the same way about you, too.
4. Spend Time Laughing
Seek out the lighthearted side of life. Taking a break from the intensity of caregiving for some daily humor is a fantastic way to swat down stress levels.
Check out a standup routine on Netflix or watch some funny videos online. You could even work some laughter into your caregiving duties by sharing some of the funny things you find with the person you’re caring for. Laughter relates directly to reducing stress.
5. Create Nutritious Meals for Yourself
As a busy caregiver, you may grab something quick when you need a meal – a frozen meal here, a handful of chips there. But that isn’t healthy. Take stock of how you’re eating to determine how nutritious your diet has become.
It’s easy to work in some healthier meals and snacks by loading up your food supply with things like nuts, whole grain products, and fresh produce. Consider making time to create some “real food” for yourself every day, too. It can give you an emotional boost when you put in the work to make a meal from nutritious whole foods, just for you.
Take Time for You, Every Day
When you help someone with dementia care or another condition that requires full- or part-time support, that caregiving can take its toll on your overall well-being. Remember, when you take care of yourself, you can take better care of others. Give yourself the kindness and credit you deserve.
It’s also important to know that you don’t have to do this alone. Most individuals with dementia eventually need full-time support that in-home caregivers alone can’t provide. When that time comes, know that it is normal. Almost every individual with dementia transitions to full-time, professional care at some point. They do so to live a safer, fuller, and more engaging life while also alleviating the burden on the family, friends, and other caregivers.
At The Monarch at Richardson, we’re here for you and your care recipient when you need to make the transition. We help both caregivers and individuals with memory impairments live stronger, happier lives. Learn more about Valeo memory care and assisted living resources at The Monarch at Richardson. Our active community empowers residents and their families to live engaged, full lives in beautiful Richardson, Texas.