​Caregiver Burnout Part 2: Tips and Strategies for Taking Care of YOU

This blog is the second in a two-blog series on caregiver burnout.

My previous blog on caregiver burnout acknowledged that it can be hard for caregivers to balance the needs of their care recipients needs and their own needs. Ultimately, I wanted all caregivers to know that your feelings matter, your mental health matters, and your own personal needs are equally important to the needs of your care recipient living with paralysis. In this blog, we will dive deeper into tips and strategies for addressing caregiver burnout.

You might not be able to treat yourself to a luxurious getaway or extended vacation, but those types of big a pair of brown skin people holding handsabsences from caregiving responsibilities generally don’t lead to long-term wellness anyway. It’s usually much more critical to find smaller, realistic ways of restoring and maintaining wellness that can be integrated into your day-to-day life on a long-term basis. Below are examples of ideas you can adopt on an everyday basis:

Practice self-care.

Prioritizing self-care means giving yourself the same compassion and care that you give to others. How can you possibly take care of other people if you are running on empty? The truth is that we all have mental health needs that we have to take care of, and if we neglect our own self-care, then we may become resentful, exhausted, or totally burned out – which is not going to serve anyone well. In fact, neglecting your own needs will likely cause lower quality of care that you’re providing to your care recipient, which is not good for them or you. Self-care helps us recharge our batteries so that we can show up for ourselves and others in authentic ways, and both you and your care recipient will benefit from your commitment to wellness. Your self-care might mean that you make time for your favorite hobbies, allowing yourself breaks, making sure you get enough social time with friends, attending to your own health, or, more broadly, allowing yourself to speak up for what you want and what you deserve.

Prioritize sleep.

As a caregiver, you need sleep! If you are helping with physical transfers or other tasks that require body effort, it’s critical for your body to rest and recharge each night. Overexerting yourself during the day and lacking sleep at night can lead to chronic fatigue, body pain, or injuries. Try to prioritize your sleep schedule by experimenting with bedtime and wake-up times – how much sleep do you need to feel at your best? Be consistent with your schedule and adopt healthy bedtime habits, such as avoiding electronics before sleeping, ensuring your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature, and experiment with bedtime rituals that work well for you. For example, you may find that journaling before bed helps you relax, you might sleep better using essential oils or stress-relief products, or you may like to listen to nature sounds as you sleep.

Adjust your boundaries.

Adjusting your boundaries might mean having an honest conversation with others about what you can and cannot reasonably take on. Depending on your specific situation, think about any changes that you can make in your social life. Consider any changes that might be possible in terms of how much you give to others. The following questions might be helpful:

Is there anything you can minimize in your life? Can you set a boundary in a particular area of your life to have more time for yourself?

Are you taking on more than what is necessary? Has it been hard for you to stick to your boundaries in the past, and has that led to you assuming more responsibility than what is necessary?

Are there any unrealistic demands in your life? Have your boundaries in the past been too flexible to the point where others have taken advantage of you?

Can you ask for help to create more room in your life? How might you network within your social support system to seek greater help? Do any of your social relationships have boundaries that feel too rigid, meaning you don’t feel comfortable asking for help from others? How can that rigidity in your relationships be more flexible so that you can ask for help?

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Acknowledge your emotions.

You also may find yourself wanting to be strong for others all the time, but it is unrealistic to expect yourself to never have negative emotions. It’s important that you have an outlet to express how you feel so that you can maintain your health and energy. Suffering in silence and holding onto negative emotions buried inside of you often leads to higher levels of stress and may lead to anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges. For caregivers, it may even negatively impact the relationship you have with your care recipient, which is good for them or you. Some feelings may be hard to verbalize, and sometimes we have thoughts we don’t want to say out loud. But when we deny, avoid, or hide our feelings, we often feel isolated, our emotions will build up or become worse, and we might experience feeling lonely or misunderstood. A great option for expressing emotions for caregivers is the Reeve Foundation's “Caring for a Family Member Living with Paralysis” virtual support group program. Virtual opportunities are provided for caregivers to connect with others who truly understand being in the role of a caregiver.

Maintain your identity outside of your caregiver role.

Remember that you always have the right to maintain parts of your own life that do not include your care recipient, just as you would if they were not in need of caregiving. Sometimes, being a caregiver can feel “all-consuming.” This is especially true for people who provide care assistance to family members. Over time, a caregiver may slowly lose their sense of individual identity as they start identifying more and more as just a caregiver. This can be damaging to one’s mental health because you are MORE than a caregiver. You also hold many other identities that deserve to be acknowledged. For example, aside from being a caregiver to someone, you may also be a wife, husband, sister, brother, friend, neighbor, artist, athlete, movie buff, swimmer, lover of outdoor barbecues, roller coaster enthusiast, an aspiring chef, schoolteacher – the list goes on! All of these parts of you that make up your wholehearted identity deserve to be acknowledged. If you feel like your role as a caregiver is becoming “all-consuming,” it will be important for you to take time to acknowledge and embrace the other parts of yourself that also lie within you.

Be proud of your strength as a caregiver.

It’s important to take pride in your efforts as a caregiver and to applaud yourself for the strength it takes to provide compassionate care assistance to others. Caregivers use extraordinary skills like attentiveness, patience, interpersonal understanding, and empathy. Caregivers also are excellent at taking direction, listening to the needs of the care recipient, and adapting on the fly. There are many other skills that you are likely using in your role as a caregiver – it’s important to remember the skills you use in this role and be proud of yourself. It’s equally important to be proud of yourself for managing your mental health and monitoring for caregiver burnout. Being a caregiver is not always easy, and it requires a careful balance of the needs of your care recipient along with your own needs. Give yourself credit for navigating this balance. The journey may not be perfect, but your ability to continue working on your wellness while simultaneously serving as a caregiver is remarkable. You’re likely doing a great job, and it’s completely valid to feel good about yourself.

About the Author - Lauren Presutti

Lauren Presutti is the CEO and Founder of River Oaks Psychology. Diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at age two, Lauren has been using a power wheelchair since she was five years old. Lauren can barely move her muscles but sitting on the sidelines was never an option for her.

Lauren Presutti

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.