Caregiving can be rewarding and exhausting! I know! And I know the importance of caring for the caregiver to avoid burnout.
I have done it for pay and for free. Primarily, my caregiving has been, and continues to be, family related. I have had the honor to care for our children, grandchildren, family members living with disabilities, those with illness, and others who were dying.
It doesn’t matter whether you are paid or are acting out of duty or from pure love. Accepting the role requires problem-solving, patience, kindness, focus, and often physical effort. Yes, exhausting! And it requires self-care to maintain the pace and commitment.
Caregiver Definition and Statistics
A caregiver is anyone who attends to and protects those who are vulnerable–typically children, fragile elderly, and those with significant physical or mental challenges or disabilities.
Statistics Canada reports that over four million of us care for family members. In essence, we dedicate hours of work without pay. The government could not handle the financial burden for this service. The majority of caregivers are women between the age of 45 and 64. Caregiver burnout is not uncommon.
Advantages of Caregiving
The situation of a caregiver is not all doom and gloom. There are rewards. Some of the advantages of caregiving include the opportunity to deepen our compassion, courage, and passion for humanity. We can discover our strengths. We can get a sense of making a difference, purpose, and meaning. We can feel inspired to reflect on our own frailties and inevitable death. We can also develop a deep sense of hope. As Nelson Mandela once said,
Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
These sentiments do not negate the personal risks of caregiving. We need to guard our energy output and health. I learned the hard way what caregiver burn out feels like and looks like, and how it can deplete. After two years of hiring, training, paying, and managing support workers for a family member, I noticed I was in trouble. When someone asked me, “Patricia, how are you?” I would excessively complain about my life or burst into tears. I needed to make changes in the name of self-care.
In a workshop conducted by Alberta Social Worker, Leanne Shannon, I was reminded of some basic care for the caregiver strategies.
10 Concepts to Care for the Caregiver
- Preventing burn-out is more about how we care. It is about combining our work as caregivers with our self-care.
- When we caregiver, we are attending to two lives; one no more than the other.
- Having and using supports for our caregiving role is important.
- It is important to focus on hope and savor moments of joy.
- Various traumas need to be acknowledged and debriefed.
- Separate the challenge from the person needing help. “The problem is the problem. The person is not the problem.” Michael White
- You can not fix everything. Let go of what you can not fix.
- Stress management skills can help.
- The ability to regulate emotions can help.
- Building in play or Me Time can help.
10 Easy Caregiver Survival Tools
- Ask for help. Have a support person, or two or three. Debrief when you feel overwhelmed or on the brink of it. Ask, Will you just listen and let me vent?
- Learn how to self-regulate your emotions.
- Identify your distress signals and attend to them.
- Learn the difference between empathy and sympathy. See a message from Brene´ Brown.
- Build play, fun, and laughter into your daily routine.
- Develop a sense of humor.
- Have some phrases to sustain you, such as “I do not have to do this. I choose to provide care. I care for others out of overflow” or “It is not selfish to fill myself up so I can pour into others.
- Have a healthy routine of nutritious food, rest and exercise.
- Celebrate the small successes.
- From a Brene´Brown’s list what to let go of:
- What you can not control
- Supposed to’s
Here is a declaration to help you cement these care for the caregiver ideas. It is written as if you are speaking to the person in need of care. However, there is no need to say these exact words to that person. Integrate the declaration into your attitude and caregiving activities.
Care for the Caregiver Declaration
I declare to you I will:
- Look after myself. To do so is not selfish; it is a responsible act.
- Seek support from others. It helps me protect my energy, strength and time. I can not and will not be the only one on your care team.
- Nourish myself with some fun or pleasant activities separate from your life. I do so to sustain my vitality.
- Notice when I express disappointment, frustration or anger. It is a signal that I feel exhausted and somehow did care of myself. When this happens I need to get back on track with deliberate self-care.
- Notice when I feel manipulated or pushed beyond my limitations. I do the best I can.
- Set boundaries of what I will and will not do. I will say no as long as it does not risk your well being. I will make sure there is someone else there for you
- Readily receive appreciation, gestures of love and encouragement from you and others. I ask that you recognize some of the sacrifices I have made to attend to your needs
- Communicate with you in honest yet caring ways, knowing we are both resilient in our own way.
If you are a caregiver or a support to a caregiver, please share your care for the caregiver tips with us. OK?