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Caregiver Fatigue: How to Avoid Burning Out

Providing care to a sick loved one is a centuries-old act of kindness and loyalty. There is comfort in knowing that your loved one is receiving the best possible care and relationships are often strengthened by this new kind of intimacy. The benefits of caregiving are clear, but what about the toll it can take? 

Caregiver Fatigue—or Caregiver Syndrome, as it’s increasingly being referred to by the medical community—is a result of not asking for help and consistently sacrificing yourself and your needs for the benefit of others. Feeling extreme stress over extended periods of time affects your health, motivation, attitude and mood, as well as your ability to cope with your daily responsibilities. Caregivers in poor health cannot provide optimal care for someone else.

Avoiding Burnout

Take a break. Does leaving your loved one’s side make you nervous? Ask a trusted friend or family member to step in and take over for a few hours while you run errands or do something relaxing. Remember, you can’t do everything by yourself.

Remember the fundamentals. Make sure you remember to eat and get enough sleep. Take short naps if you need to and talk to your doctor if lack of sleep becomes a problem.

Establish healthy boundaries. Well-meaning friends and family members may overwhelm you with phone calls and emails. Don’t feel guilty about not returning every call.

Caring Bridge is a free service that allows families to stay connected by providing free personalized patient websites. Updating your site and sharing the link is a great way to keep people informed.

Ask for help. Accepting help from others isn’t always easy, but it’s important to remember that letting others help you will also help your loved one. People want to help, but may not know how to offer it. Ask for what you need and for those things that would be most helpful to you.

Lotsa Helping Hands is a free service that provides families with an organized means of answering the question, “What can I do to help?”

Share your feelings. You’re probably experiencing a wide range of emotions right now. Give yourself a chance to understand and work through them. Confide in a close friend, a counselor or a support group. Lean on the MPIP community members. Rest assured, everything you are feeling right now is normal.

Avoid tunnel vision. Don’t let caregiving take over your entire life. It’s easier to accept a difficult situation if there are other things in your life you find rewarding. While it’s important not to over-commit yourself, be sure to set aside time for things that give you meaning and purpose.

Laugh. You might not feel like laughing right now, but having a good giggle can reduce stress hormones like cortisol. Watch a comedy or laugh with a friend over the absurdity of life.

Caregiving may be the hardest job you’ll ever have. If you know the warning signs for burnout and can take steps to avoid it, caregiving may also be the most rewarding experience of your life.

For additional information on caregiving, download the MRF’s Caregiver Support Guide, written for caregivers, by caregivers.

Written by the MRF's Director of Advocacy & Volunteer Services, Mary Antonucci