Whether you are a parent caring for young children, a child caring for elderly parents, a sibling caring for a disabled sibling, or a friend caring for a friend in recovery, chances are you will experience caregiver fatigue at some point in time, if not already. Caregiver fatigue or burnout is when a caregiver experiences physical, mental, and/ or emotional exhaustion from not receiving the help needed to cope with the responsibilities of being a caregiver. Exhaustion can manifest in many way. Some caregivers develop anxiety or depression. Although being a caregiver is a noble and selfless duty, it is important to care for yourself.
Why Self-Care is Important
Many of us want to be strong and dependable caregivers. While some feel that being a caregiver is a privilege, it is also a duty. In order to be an adequate caregiver, the caregiver needs to be in a capacity to give care. This means that the caregiver needs to care for themself. It is important that we not neglect ourselves and prioritize self care, because keeping ourself healthy is being a good and responsible caregiver. When we neglect ourselves, it will affect our loved ones we care for. Being a caregiver takes a tremendous amount of physical labor, energy, stress, patience, and attention. If you are tired or emotionally drained, it will be difficult to be patient with your parent suffering with alzheimer’s who asks you for the 20th time who ate their apple (they did). If physically exhausted, it will be difficult to run after young children or give them the physical play that they need.
Combating Caregiver Fatigue
The first step in combating fatigue is recognizing that you need help and need to be willing to receive it. Second, you probably need sleep. As a caregiver we might be reluctant to receive additional help for various reasons. Know that when someone says, “let me know if I can help” it does not always mean that the only way to help is to “babysit” or “parent-sit.” You can accept their help by saying, “Yes I could really use help with:”
- Help grocery shopping, here is a list
- Providing meals on these days
- Cleaning the house
- Doing the dishes
- Walking the dog
- Mowing the lawn
- Finding some resources
- Doing laundry
There are many ways others can help besides providing direct care. If you are comfortable with others providing direct care and it is appropriate, it could be helpful to create a schedule and schedule activities for yourself. In the past, before you were a caregiver, you probably did not schedule when you would be able to shower, sleep, or eat. With the demands of being a caregiver, scheduling some of these basic needs may now be a necessity. It would also be helpful to schedule time for your emotional support by attending a group for caregivers, scheduling therapy sessions, or making time to meet with friends who you can talk with.
The demands and stress of being a caregiver can be great, if you start to notice a detriment in yourself with significant weight loss or gain, feelings of sadness or stress, shortness of patience, or lack of sleep, talking with a mental health professional could be helpful in caring for yourself and being a better caregiver.