burnt out from caregiving? here's how to get back on track

When we first become caregivers or when there’s a new emergency, we go into super hero mode. You know what I mean: you do it all, without stopping, at the same time.

Nothing can stop you, until you can’t keep it up. It’s unsustainable. You can only suck it up and forge ahead for so long before you’ll burn out.

You’re burning out

The problem is, even super heroes aren’t super heroes around the clock, day in and day out.

Taking care of someone else all the time without a break leads to anger, resentment, and sheer exhaustion. You can’t think clearly. You snap at people. You can’t connect with people. You’re so anxious you can’t sleep. You’re miserable.

You know what they need. Do you know what you need?

Take a minute to ask yourself: What are you missing? What do you have? The more specific the better.

Most of us have a few coping methods we cling to, often from childhood. They may or may not be right for the challenges caregiving presents. Caregiving is often presenting new challenges, all on top of each other. You’ll need a whole arsenal of coping methods to make it through in one piece.

Think about what you really need. What specific things are getting to you the most?

Of the things that are getting you down, which ones could possibly be changed? Even a little?

about to burn out? try thisFight decision fatigue

Caregivers get stuck with a lot of responsibility. So many of the choices we face have no good answer, leading to immense guilt and anxiety.

Decision fatigue is a real thing, and it’s exhausting. Do yourself a favor and eliminate any decisions that don’t matter. Patterns, habits, and rituals are great for this.

  • Grab a few things from your closet that all match each other and fit you. Ignore the rest of your clothes and rotate these.
  • Eat the same things every week. Stick with one simple grocery list. If you can, get them delivered automatically…or from a neighbor who’s going to the store anyway.
  • Schedule appointments at the same times as much as possible.
  • Schedule times to make phone calls, do paperwork, and other chores.

The less you have to think about chores and things that don’t really matter, the more time you can think about the things that do.

Get back control

Sure, we’re making decisions all day, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in control at all, does it?

What makes your life feel out of control? What can you do to feel like you’re back at the steering wheel?

Is someone demanding help constantly when they could really wait an hour? Set up ground rules for requests.

Is the unknowing of a lack of diagnosis driving you to your wits end? Turn to meditation or faith to learn to accept the unknown.

Has your life become a random series of chores? Set up a routine and stick with it as much as possible. Everyone works better when they’re following a routine.

Remember that caregiving is a choice. Perhaps it seems outlandish to imagine being able to walk away, but you could. What would it take? What would make you do it? Every moment you’re taking care of someone else is a moment you’re choosing to do so. You’re doing it because you want to be here, even if it’s hard.

Get in touch with you

You’re a human. Humans make mistakes, say the wrong things, and let people down. You’re going to lose your patience. That’s okay. We all do. Remember that. Other people probably have unrealistic expectations of what you should do. Let them, but remember there are limits to what you can do. You’re already going above and beyond.

Find a way to remember how proud you are of yourself. Maybe it’s journaling, a gratitude jar, or just thinking about it as you brush your teeth. A daily moment of reflection doesn’t have to be involved to be meaningful.

As a human, you still need to have an identity besides being a caregiver. Even if you barely have time for the other pieces of yourself, make that tiny bit of time. People who only take care of other people 100% of the time end up bitter, angry, and empty. This is your life, too.

You’re spending a lot of time thinking about someone else’s physical needs. Lots of caregivers neglect their own — and then die before the person they’re caring for, or become so ill they need a caregiver themselves. Stay in touch with your body, too. Go for a walk, even if it’s short. Don’t skip meals. There are lots of little tricks to stay healthy, even when things are hectic. Other caregivers are happy to share them with you.

You’ve cut out a lot of things in your life to be a caregiver. Surely there’s something caregiving related you can cut back on to make some time for yourself.

Stay connected

When you’re in super hero mode, everything that’s non-essential falls away. Friends and other relationships tend to get cut.

It’s fine to neglect your friends for a little bit, but in the long term it has huge consequences — for your physical and mental health.

Maybe you don’t have time to go out, but there’s always time for a quick text. Things like Facebook can help you stay involved, even if you don’t see someone regularly. It’s also a great way to let people know you could really use some company.

Adrienne found she didn’t want to talk to her old friends about caregiving. She wanted to keep her friendships as a bubble of her old, normal life. Instead, she wanted to talk to other caregivers, who better understood what she was going through. So she created this community.

It’s true — your friends might not understand what you’re going through. Those long hours in waiting rooms and hospital cafeterias are an opportunity to meet new people who get it.

But don’t let go of your old friends. Even if they’re awkward around you now, remember they have their own struggles. Invite them over for coffee, even if your house is a mess and you’re stressed out. Write them an email. Ask how they’re going and listen. You need them.

burnt out? here's the cure for caregiver burnoutKnow your strengths

None of us are good at everything.

Some of us are just not good at keeping track of bills and insurance paperwork.

Some of us have limits to our patience with other peoples emotional needs and poor behavior.

Some of us aren’t very good drivers.

You’re going to do a lot of things, but you can’t do everything. You shouldn’t do everything. Identify the things you just aren’t your strengths and find help with them.

Who will help? Social workers, librarians, and faith communities are a great start. There are community organizations that will help you with your taxes, provide free transportation, do your yard work, and provide companionship for your caree. Every community has different services, but someone you know can help you find help in your area. You can’t do this alone. And you don’t have to.

This is one of those times when Facebook can really help. Ask for something specific and you’ll have better luck.

If you’re providing 100% of the care and not sharing the burden, if something happens to you, whoever steps into your shoes will be lost. It’s not good to be irreplaceable. Other people will do things differently. They’ll be annoying to deal with. They’ll disappoint you. But it’s still worth it to get help.

People don’t feel good when they can’t contribute. Is there something your caree can do to help you? Ask them to do it. Everyone has something to give — and they feel better when they have the opportunity to share it.

Know what you need

It’s incredibly difficult to know what we need. What will make us happy? People have been studying that for millennia.

When you know what you need, you’re half way to solving the problem. Identifying a need means you can find ways to meet that need…or learn to accept that it’s going to be unmet.

Not getting what you need leads to resentment. Resentful caregivers are not good caregivers, no matter how hard they try.

The thing is, no amount of self-care will allow you to be a 24/7 caregiver for a decade without burning out. Sometimes you need a real break — a vacation from caregiving.

Lots of us are taking care of people we love. We don’t want to go on vacation without them. That’s fine. Bringing in a professional caregiver — or a cleaner, handyman, personal assistant — can free you up to have quality time with the person you love. Rather than focusing just on caring for them, you can really be with them.

Written by Cori Carl
As Director, Cori is an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for people providing care.

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20 Comments

  1. I burned out a long time ago and lost my health, my job (twice), and my home. I’m permanently exhausted.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing, but it would never work for me.

    Reply
  3. Just this week I’ve made changes to suit me better, I’m looking forward to these changes, I’m taking back some much needed “me time”

    Reply
  4. If possible, try to lay down in the afternoon even if it is only for 1/2 hour. Set your smartphone or alarm clock to get you up. You need a mental break. Search for ocean waves, or water in a rambling creek, or sound of rain on your smartphone. Listen to that for awhile to help you be calmer and more relaxed.

    Reply
  5. Nice thought but it don’t work with my situation. Thank you for your words.

    Reply
  6. It’s just plain hard. But we have to keep getting up and doing it every day. Some days are easier, some are harder. I have no family who is willing/able to help, either, but I have to keep going. I have a few supportive friends and my faith in God to keep me going. Yes, there are many days I have broken down, but I have to keep going. It’s extra hard because I have chronic illness myself.

    Reply
  7. Just talking about setting meals for each day. Anyone do this & care to share!

    Reply
  8. Remember that caregiving is a choice. Perhaps it seems outlandish to imagine being able to walk away, but you could. What would it take? What would make you do it? Every moment you’re taking care of someone else is a moment you’re choosing to do so. You’re doing it because you want to be here, even if it’s hard
    Holy crap! Did you just publish this???
    So I can opt out of my daughters care?
    C’mon folks. We did not choose this. It chose us.
    Bad bad bad

    Reply
  9. I was reading it earlier, thinking the same 🙂

    Reply
  10. I do the grocery delivery thing through Shipt .. love it ..
    They keep a list of your purchases so you can go into the app and choose again .. or shop all categories..
    $99 a year for as many deliveries as needed ..no other charge if order is $35 or more .. mine always is ..

    I also have a few matching outfits and a few I wear around the house ..

    Going for simplicity

    We have all doctors and nurses and therapy coming to our home so we schedule them at a time we like

    Pay bills between 1st and 3rd of month

    We have a Disability Acheivement Center for our county that delivers needed items that are provided and delivered free.. (Pasco County Florida )they bring bed pads , wipes , a walker and they have many many other items .. they are located in Largo Florida

    Reply
    • You are blessed. Here in Texas there is nothing like that.

      Reply
    • I’m so sorry Debbie .. it took me quite a few years to find this help .. we do Meals on Wheels at times too

      Reply
    • There is a waiting list for meals on wheels and we do not get medicare until August…….and so the list goes. My husband has had parkinson’s for 17 long years, he is very needy now and I help my Dad, so my days are not too easy. I love them both and would do anything to make their lives easier, I am almost 64 and the physical strain is really beginning to wear on me.

      Reply
    • God Bless you Debbie .. I hear you .. I took care of my mom and dad and my mother in law too and now hubby .. so I am 73 now and hubby is 76 ..
      We didn’t have that much help when I was taking care of my parents ..
      Dad was a veteran and we never knew about the Veterans Pension for Aid and Attendance .. that could have helped them greatly and my mom could have gotten it too .. I was able to get it for my mother in law based on her second husband’s service record ..

      My dad couldn’t even get a hearing aid when he was sick from VA at that time back in 1987 ..

      Reply
  11. I have not let go of old friends, they have let go of us.

    Reply
    • INDEED, THEY ALL HAVE JUST QUIETLY WALKED INTO THE SUNSET.

      Reply
    • I think old friends feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say,so stay busy in their own world.

      Reply

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