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Ohio State University Extension

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Self-Care for the Caregiver

HYG-5811
Family and Consumer Sciences
Date: 
01/14/2022
Roseanne E. Scammahorn, PhD, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Darke County
Reviewed by Kellie Lemly, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Champaign County

Do you find that you feel guilty about not doing enough as a caregiver? Do you feel angry or resentful towards family or friends for not assisting you more in your caregiving responsibilities? Do you feel irritable or strained because of the stresses of caregiving?

Caregivers often have self-imposed expectations, pressuring them to feel they should be able to handle every situation they encounter with little or no support or assistance from others. There is tremendous pressure to be able “do it all,” such as taking care of children and aging parents while maintaining a career and the home. Instead of having a sense of accomplishment, many feel guilty when they run out of the energy needed to handle all the tasks.An elderly woman in a wheelchair smiles as a younger caregiver leans over her from behind the wheelchair and smiles.

It is easy to become so immersed in caring for your loved one that you may neglect your own physical, mental, and emotional health. Caregiver burnout can happen when help from others is not available or sought out. It can also occur if the caregiver takes on more than they have the time, financial resources, or energy to handle.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Caregivers are as important as the people they care for. Recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout is important so you can take time to care for yourself. As you recognize the signs of burnout, take steps to get your life back into balance. This is the point at which you must communicate your feelings with your family or seek professional help from your health care provider. The Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging lists these common signs of caregiver burnout:

  • feeling a roller coaster of emotions
  • becoming irritated over every little thing
  • withdrawing from friends, family, and other loved ones
  • experiencing changes in sleep patterns (too much or not enough)
  • having difficulty thinking about how to get through a day
  • being unable to concentrate
  • experiencing changes in appetite, weight, or both
  • feeling constantly overwhelmed or anxious
  • using alcohol, medications, or sleeping pills excessively

A caregiver is seated behind an elderly woman with her hands on the woman’s shoulders. The elderly woman has reached up to place her hand over the caregiver’s hand on her right shoulder.

Take Care of You

  1. Take care of your own health. You must first take care of your own health so you can be healthy enough to take care of your loved one. Eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, finding ways to relax, practicing good hygiene, and going for your regular medical check-ups are all ways to be proactive in taking care of your health. Self-care for caregivers is not a luxury or a waste of time, it is a necessity. Self-care also includes setting and committing to healthy boundaries such as saying “No” to requests that you feel are draining and stressful.
  2. Watch for signs of depression. Do not delay getting professional help when you need it. Signs of depression include constant sadness, feelings of hopelessness and pessimism, changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, and having trouble concentrating.
  3. Seek support from other caregivers. Consider attending a support group for disease-specific caregiving, for more general caregiving, or both. Support groups can be beneficial to caregivers. Support groups may offer educational opportunities, and help you feel less lonely, isolated, or judged. They also give you the opportunity to talk openly and honestly about your feelings and frustrations, and help you cope with challenges.
  4. Take respite breaks often. Respite care is short-term assistance by an outside provider that allows you time to rest. One type of respite is adult day care and health service, usually located at a care center. This type of service can help provide social contact, leisure and therapeutic activities, nutritional meals, and transportation to and from the center for your loved one. In addition to respite care, seek help from family members.
  5. Accept offers of help. Accepting outside support is not a sign of weakness but one of strength. Accepting help from others allows you to have a health break to recharge your batteries. Your loved one also benefits from spending time with others. Often, others are willing and able to pitch in, but they may not know what is needed or how to help. Suggest specific things people can do to help you, such as picking up groceries or driving your loved one to an appointment.
  6. Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors. Write down all your questions and concerns prior to the office visit. Writing things down helps you remember what needs to be addressed. Share all relevant information with your health care provider. Health care providers need to have as much information as possible so you can do your best as a caregiver.
  7. Consider new technologies. Many smart home devices have remote control. This allows you to monitor things like the thermostat, appliances, light usage, and more. Video and sound technology can offer peace of mind as you check in on loved ones when you are away from the home.
  8. Organize medical information. You probably have most of this information readily available. If not, begin with what you have and add information as you can. Make sure it is up to date, easy to find, and includes the following:
  • names of all physicians
  • known allergies or reactions to medications
  • medications, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements
  • health conditions and dates of diagnoses
  • dates of most recent exams, tests, and immunizations
  • dates and reasons for hospitalizations
  • dates and details of surgeries
  • dates and lengths of major illnesses
  • history of smoking and alcohol use
  • location of living will or medical directives
  • history of exposure to dangerous conditions or hazards
  • family history including illnesses or conditions of parents and siblings
  • cause of death of parents and siblings and their ages at death
  1. Make sure legal documents are in order. The five basic documents to have on hand include the following:
  • power of attorney
  • durable power of attorney for health care
  • living will or advance directive
  • HIPAA authorization form
  • will and living trust
  1. Be proud of yourself because you are doing your best and trying your hardest!

An older man and woman sit together, laughing and holding hands.In conclusion, now you are aware of some signs of caregiver burnout and some proactive ways of taking good care of yourself. Remember, taking care of yourself is of the greatest importance as a caretaker. Also, keep in mind that you are not alone. Many resources are available such as the Area Agency on Aging, the Caregiver Actions Network, along with community support groups, friends, and family. If you are already experiencing signs of caregiver burnout such as stress and depression, do not wait—seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

While caring for your loved one will never be 100% stress free, there are ways to prevent caregiver burnout while living a balanced and fulfilling life.

Resources for Support

References

Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging. 2018. The Caregiver Toolbox: Guide to Independent Living. Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging. PDF.
coaaa.org/cms/images/docs/guides/COAAA_Caregiver_Toolbox.pdf.

Aging In Place. n.d. “Caregiver Burnout.” Accessed January 12, 2022.
aginginplace.org/caregiver-burnout/.

Caregiver Action Network. n.d. “10 Tips for Family Caregivers.” Accessed January 12, 2022.
caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers.

Marlo Sollitto, “Strategies for Coping with Caregiver Stress,” AgingCare, Accessed January 12, 2022,
agingcare.com/articles/strategies-for-coping-with-caregiver-stress-135916.htm.

Melinda Smith, “Caregiver Stress and Burnout,” HelpGuide, Updated November 2021,
helpguide.org/articles/stress/caregiver-stress-and-burnout.htm.

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