Can you describe the word “burnout?” What burnout means to me may be different than what it means to you. Burnout is stress, either physical or emotional, that comes along with prolonged or excessive stress. It can make you feel overwhelmed, tired, anxious, or hopeless.
When I get overwhelmed with the laundry list of tasks I must do, 35 voicemails waiting for my attention, a line of people waiting outside of my office, the inevitable call from the school nurse … I have to take a moment and relax myself. Sometimes that means having a cup of coffee and taking a moment to breathe, and other times that means literally writing a list of things that need to get done today and things that can wait until tomorrow. I have the luxury to do that because there are always things that can wait.
When you are a caregiver, however, sometimes you don’t have that luxury.
If you are living with a spouse, parent or even a child that needs care, there are often no moments to be taken and the list of tasks seem insurmountable. I see this daily in my work at CareOne at Teaneck. Time and time again, we see adults who are so completely burnt out from caring for their loved ones 24/7. I recently had a patient who was showing early signs of dementia. She would take daily walks around the corner but last month she could not find her way home and was brought home by a neighbor. Her daughter was now sleeping on a couch barricaded in front of her door so that her mother could not leave in the middle of the night. She could not let her guard down out of fear her mother would wander out of the home. She did not have the luxury of taking a breath, and so many months later she was so burnt out she had lost 20 pounds as well as her job.
As caregivers, we must remember that we are useless to the person we are caring for if we are not caring for ourselves. Remember, place the oxygen on yourself first. How can one do that? Here are some helpful tips on self-care:
1) Breathe. Sounds silly but deep breathing enables oxygen to flow through your body and can improve vascular function and reduce stress. If you are unable to go to a yoga studio, check out YouTube for countless yoga videos.
2) Get your body moving. This could mean standing and stretching or just taking a walk. Can’t go outside? No problem — move around the house!
3) Laugh. When I am in a rotten mood, I like to listen to comedy shows or short videos of something funny. It lightens my mood and laughing increases endorphins in your brain!
4) Phone a friend. Call a friend to chat, vent, talk about your day. Sometimes I call my friend just to rehash my day and then feel better. Try it, this works!
5) Listen to music. There is so much research on what music does to our bodies and for stress (and even for patients with dementia). Play your favorite song and sing along!
6) Find a support group. There are a lot of wonderful local support groups for caregivers — some even remote if you are unable to leave the house. Please feel free to reach out to me and I can put you in touch with some wonderful groups that can assist.
7) Schedule a checkup for yourself. Caregivers often are so busy caring for others they neglect their own needs. Who will care for your loved one if you aren’t there? Make sure to get your annual physical and listen to symptoms.
If all else fails, or if you are going away on vacation (good for you) and need a safe place for your loved one to stay, CareOne at Teaneck offers respite stays. Please call me at (201) 862-3300 for a tour and information on how to set this up. A caregiver’s job is truly never done, but you are not alone. There are a range of local services available to assist you — just email or call me and I am happy to pass along some resources.
Laurie Kleid is the licensed nursing home administrator at CareOne at Teaneck. She has been working with caregivers and patients since 2004. She can be reached at [email protected] or by calling CareOne at (201) 862-3300. She drinks a lot of coffee.