Some things in life are hard to pin down. Burnout fits the category. You seem to adjust well to life’s increased demands. But you start to feel tired, maybe a little anxious, and you get sick more than you used to. You don’t sleep as well at night, and it feels like your mind is always racing. It gets harder to keep the rest of life in order. All of these things take their toll, and you get angry. You’re angry at yourself. Maybe you’re angry at your family.
These signs and symptoms aren’t uncommon. Often, they are the result of increased stress, and in our case, that stress comes from taking care of a family member. Whether it is your mom, dad, or spouse that is in need of assistance, the workload piles up exponentially and weighs heavily. Here are some common emotions, and some helpful ways to deal with them:
Caregivers are often grieving the loss of the person they once knew, even though their loved one is still alive. Take this story for instance: “Dad was always my hero. He was strong, independent, and confident. Before his stroke, he read history books every day. He took care of the lawn, all of the projects around the house, and helped care for mom. But after his stroke, he can’t see well enough to read, and his right side is so weak he can barely walk on his own. Now I’m caring for mom and dad, and it seems like he’s not the same person.”
Suzanne Mintz (cofounder of the National Family Caregivers Association) says it this way, “When someone dies, it is an overwhelming and horrible experience, but it is the end of something. With a caregiver, the grief is perpetual. It goes on and on and on.”
One way of dealing with this grief is to find ways to relate to the “new” person. Maybe your mom loved the arts, and now she can’t sit through a three hour show. Allow her to engage the creation in her own home, or in shorter doses. Perhaps the dad who loved to read history books can no longer read himself, but would enjoy you stopping by to read to him, or a well made documentary.
Guilt is a strange emotion to list, but it is prevalent in many family caregiving situations. Guilt for not spending enough time together. Guilt for the anger or negative feelings you are experiencing towards your loved one. Guilt for not tending to your own family. Guilt for wishing that this was “all over” so we can get on with our lives.
Given that this is a common emotion, one of the most disarming actions is to talk about it. Support groups are an excellent resource for caregivers, as they learn that others are going through the same thing and offer assistance. Another way to combat guilt is to empower yourself with information. More often than not, family members assume they have to move their parent or spouse out of their home and into a nursing home. That is no longer the case. Some research on elder benefits, types of care available, respite programs, and networks of support can help you and your loved one over the long journey ahead.
Caregivers are more susceptible to chronic and acute illnesses, stress induced conditions, and other forms of exhaustions due to the burden of giving care. The key to preventing exhaustion is to ask for help. Other family members may be able to pitch in. If they live out of town, they can handle some of the administrative work (i.e. bill pay, insurance companies, etc). Then care becomes a team effort. Home care is a wonderful way to get short periods of assistance only when it is needed.
Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, there won’t be anyone left to take care of your loved one.
You’re working hard. Let us lend a hand.