You’ve most likely heard the alarming statistics. If you are a caregiver, your chances of divorce are much higher. In order to have our other relationships thrive we need to know how to avoid burnout when caregiving.
I’m going to give you ten tips that will help you.
But let me tell you a bit about another caregiver first and also why you should even listen to my advice in the first place:
I’m reading a book right now, a true story – Hope Heals, by Katherine and Jay Wolfe. Katherine suffered a brain stem stroke. As life outside the hospital went on, in their tiny hospital room, their world had come to a halt.
Katherine wasn’t supposed to survive. But she did. She was a rare MIRACLE in a medical world that saw cases like hers die pretty much 100% of the time.
I was struck but a paragraph in their story…
One of their health care workers pulled Jay aside. She told him that the divorce rate amongst patients like Katherine and their spouses was high, due to the burnout of the spouse doing the caregiving. She recommended Jay take a break, so he could recharge and have the energy and mental strength to keep caring for his wife.
Can you relate to their story?
If not, maybe you can connect to mine…
My husband Vance and I have been caregivers for twenty-nine years to our son Kyle, who has severe autism.
Have we ever suffered burnout?
But now being an older and wiser woman, what have I learned after trying to be the caregiver for my son for many years?
To take off the superhero cape. Somehow I thought I had to be a martyr and wear this accessory every day.
I also kicked the false-guilt to the curb. You know that little niggling voice in the back of your head telling you that you’re a bad mom/wife/daughter/dad/husband/son because you can’t take care of your special needs loved one or elderly parent on your own, and need help.
Ya, that one…kick it to the curb.
Free yourself from the LIE.
It’s okay to ask for help, it’s alright to not do it all, and it’s crucial to your physical/ mental health to take a break.
Oh, yes it is!
The day finally came about fifteen years ago, when I told my husband I couldn’t be Kyle’s main caregiver anymore – I needed help. That was the moment I began to climb out of isolation, exhaustion, depression, self-pity and poor caregiving – due to burnout.
I was also “mom” to my other four children, who were younger than Kyle and I knew my relationship with them was also suffering, due to my mental and physical deterioration.
My husband joined the caregiving team, and together we walked the road to giving our son a better life.
Years later, when Kyle took another turn for the worst, we asked others to join our team. They came alongside us and lifted a huge burden. Today Kyle has a team of about 8-10 people who help take care of him in our home.
Was Kyle a burden? Absolutely not!
But his many disorders can create a person Kyle cannot control, and he wishes he didn’t have to live with.
Kyle is one of the bravest, most courageous people I know. He has climbed enormous mountains, survived fierce battles, and still found ways to bring those around him joy.
But what do I appreciate about having so much help? I love that I can just be his mom. My mom duties today, are doing Kyle’s laundry, making all his food, and giving lots of hugs and kisses. Now I can enjoy the moments of fun and silliness we have together. I also have time with my other four children.
For twenty-five years I bathed Kyle, gave him his medications, wrestled him when he was violent, cleaned up bodily waste…and eventually burnt out physically, mentally and emotionally.
About fifteen years into caregiving, our doctor had a serious talk with us. “You two need one weekend off a month, you’re burning out.” That wasn’t possible, but we started taking one week a year, to rest. The first cruise we went on we stayed in our cabin the whole week, watching movies and sleeping.
We were exhausted, we didn’t know how to avoid burnout when caregiving.
Eventually, when our four youngest were older, we took holidays 2-3 times a year.
Believe it or not, we were judged.
Why were Vance and Cindy being so extravagant and spending money on vacations? We weren’t actually buying vacations, we were investing in our sanity… and marriage.
The holidays kept our marriage rejuvenated and allowed us a mental break from living with an anxiety bomb, that could go off at any minute of the day. We lived in a high-stress environment 24/7.
Vance and I don’t apologize for our yearly therapy anymore. We also want to encourage other families to not feel guilty for the time they need to recharge, de-stress, fill back up with hope, and become amazing caregivers for their loved ones.
Here are some ways for you to daily/yearly take care of yourself so you can be a wonderful caregiver to the person you love.
How To Avoid Burnout When Caregiving – Ten Tips:
Coffee with a friend – If you know of another family in a situation similar to yours, befriend them and take time to listen to each other and support one another. If not, call a friend who’s a good listener and ask them if you can get together.
Exercise – Many caregivers skip this. Exercise is a huge stress reliever. Going for a 30-minute walk can clear your mind, energize you and make you physically healthy. Even better, if you play a higher intensity sport, your mind will definitely not be on your daily struggles but on the task at hand. We joined Crossfit, this became a huge blessing in our day.
Journalling – Buy yourself a journal, it can be pretty, have an inspiring quote on the front or a picture you like. Writing all your cares, worries and frustrations can release them from constantly cycling through your mind. Writing may also help you to see daily/weekly/yearly patterns in your loved one’s behaviour. Plus it may lead to you writing a book one day 😉
Reading – Find an uplifting and joyful book to read. When I saw a book titled: Today God Wants You To Know …You Are Beautiful. I smiled as I read the cover. As I opened the book and skimmed a couple of pages, my heart was touched by the joy I felt. Read books that uplift your soul, instead of literature that leaves you feeling anxious and sad.
A tip you can do with a spouse…
Watch an inspiring movie – This may sound counterproductive, but I love watching movies where families have been through great tragedy and yet have found happiness despite their circumstances. Pureflix is a family friendly film company. Almost every movie they have will leave you feeling happy. I find I can feel distracted for an hour and a half when I’m watching a good movie, and this gives me a mental break from my worries. Plus if hubby sits and watches with me…even better.
Here are five more tips on how to avoid burnout when caregiving.
Good food– If you’re eating healthy food; lots of greens, veggies, fruits, seeds, nuts, healthy fats, and meats, you will be giving yourself the best chance of living a long and healthy life. This will be a blessing to the child/adult you are a caregiver for. You are worth it, don’t feel guilty about spending money on good food. A great source for healthy eating and nutrition is Charity Elliott Nutrition.
Hobbies– Do you love to paint, sew, build model planes, bowl, scrapbook, bake, do photography, or blog? What makes you sigh – like a really big sigh? Do more of that! I love writing, I write every day. This is my happy place and my therapy from stress. Find something that takes you to your happy place every day, even if it’s just for 10-15 min.
My favourite tip…
Take a vacation – This may be with or without the person you’re a caregiver for. Kyle is too anxious to take on vacation, and your loved one may be the same. If you have family help or assistance, take time for you and your spouse to get away and work on your marriage. If your single, you need this even more. Maybe it’s just overnight, or maybe it’s a week away. But a change from the house you are in 24/7 can be a real breath of fresh air. This is my favourite ‘how to avoid burnout when caregiving.’
Get a puppy – Have you considered getting a service dog for the person you care for? This might relieve some of their stress and yours. Our son Eythan is a caregiver, and he bought his wife, Jazmin, a puppy (we thought it was a really bad idea at the time). Jazmin is 21 and has stage 4 cancer. The puppy ended up being a huge stress reliever for both of them. On Jazmin’s worst days Lacey will lay in bed with her, and this helps ease Jazmin’s pain and brings her joy on her hardest days. When Eythan comes home from work, he finds playing with the dog a great way to relax and unwind. Read more about their story here: A Year Of Hope
The most helpful tip of all…
Prayer – This will bring you more peace and rejuvenation than the first nine on the list. When I couldn’t leave my house, due to Kyle’s condition, I went out on the porch and prayed. So many times, God refreshed my soul and encouraged me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We also started a private FB prayer group for Kyle. This changed his life and ours is the most dramatic, yet profound way. I would have labelled it as #1 but was worried I may have lost you if you’re not a person who prays. Give it a try, I promise you won’t regret it!
Bonus: If you are not a caregiver but are a family member or friend of one, look over this list and find a way you can help. Many families with special needs kids/adults hardly leave their home and are isolated on a regular basis. Even a note with a batch of cupcakes shows you care and will bring a smile to their face.
You need some tender-loving-care so you can keep being the incredible caregiver that you are. Very few people are willing to do what you are doing: giving up a life of comfort, to give someone else a higher quality of life.
I want to give you a big hug and tell you that you are a wonderful, amazing, beautiful and kind caregiver.
The world needs more of you!
Please take care of yourself: so you can be a blessing to your family and those you love.