By Karen Bromberg
What is it and how does it differ from caregiver stress?
I’m so glad you asked.
Caregivers experience stress, that’s a given. It’s like getting sunburnt if you sit out in the sun too long without sunscreen; it’s like getting wet if you walk in the rain without an umbrella. You provide care to someone and you’re going to get stressed. It comes with the territory.
Just run a quick Google search and you’ll see just how prevalent it is. But wait, you may say, isn’t caregiver stress and caregiver burnout the same thing? I mean, I’m looking at my Google search results and they seem to use “caregiver stress” and “caregiver burnout” synonymously.
Well, they’re not. What do I mean? Let’s take a closer look.
Author Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. points out in a blog post entitled The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? Running out of gas? Recognizing the signs of burnout before it’s too late on Psychologytoday.com, “When in the throes of full-fledged burnout, you are no longer able to function effectively on a personal or professional level.”
But, you may be asking, when does stress cross over and become burn-out?
Short answer, it can be different for each person. It is when a loved one is being rushed yet again to the emergency room? Or when one’s mother or father move in and turn a once relatively quiet existence upside down? Perhaps it’s when the doctor gives the dreaded diagnosis after months of a loved one having this or that illness? It may be any one or none of those things.
So . . .
Could you be burnt out and not even know it?
Several weeks ago, I was preparing to do a Facebook Livestream. The topic? What else? Caregiver Burnout. I read a bunch of articles and blog posts. To my surprise, I found myself identifying with many of the symptoms: inability to function, detachment, overwhelm.
I was amazed. Truly, it was an eye-opener! I mean, I’d been accused of being detached. Imagine my surprise!
To be honest it made total sense. After all, my parents had died. I was busy at my job. I was trying to catch up with things, things that were important to me, things I let slide during my parents’ illnesses and death. In essence, I was trying to get my life back, all while still struggling with exhaustion.
I had no idea I was burnt out, but as Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. reminds us in her blog post, The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? Running out of gas? Recognizing the signs of burnout before it’s too late in Psycologytoday.com, “You don’t wake up one morning and all of a sudden ‘have burnout.’ Its nature is much more insidious, creeping up on us over time like a slow leak, which makes it much harder to recognize.”
So what do I do if I find I’m burnt out?
Even if you think you might be burnt out, the first thing I would do is get checked out by a physician and/or mental health professional, if for no other reason than to get an outsider’s point of view. Now, you can go and talk to a friend, neighbor, or relative and ask him or her if they think you are burnt out but the benefit of being evaluated by a health professional is that the medical professional:
- is objective,
- can help to alleviate the symptoms and
- can help to ultimately resolve the condition.
It’s so important to stay on top of caregiver burnout, I can’t stress it enough. If not for ourselves, then for the ones we care for.
You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole notion of selfishness vs selflessness. I mean, it’s great when we act selflessly; putting others’ needs ahead of our own, not expecting anything (not even a “thank you”) in return. It’s great. I get it. We feel important. We feel essential. And the truth is, we are.
But there also comes a time when we have to take care of ourselves as well and, no it’s not selfish for us to do so. In fact, if we look at it another way, we can put it along with all the myriad of other selfless acts we perform every day. I mean, we’re taking care of ourselves so that we can stay healthy so that we can take care of our mother, father, spouse, etc.
And no, it’s not an either/or proposition. It’s not if I take care of myself I can’t take care of my loved one. Not at all. Not even in the slightest. Getting a little rest, doing something else while your loved one is well cared for (possibly in respite care) can make all the difference.
So . . . while waiting for our appointment with our medical professional how about figuring out how much stress we’re under. I know. The answer is “lots,” but “lots” doesn’t really say a lot and the more specific we can be as to the areas of where our stress the more we’ll be able to get out of our appointment.
In last week’s blog post entitled Caregiver Stress, I addressed ways we can assess our stress levels. My suggestion would be to start there, then once done, bring that information with us and talk about it during our appointment.
The other reason is that once we know what our stress level is, we can start taking steps toward dialing it back.
How do we dial it back? Below are a few ideas:
Perform relaxation techniques
Deep breathing, meditation, deep relaxation are all really good methods for relaxing the body and mind.
Take a break
For some this is tricky. What if you can’t leave the house? What if your loved one is demanding? What if he or she needs to be able to see you or gets upset if he or she can’t? What happens then? Well, you can still take a break. How about sitting in a chair, eyes closed, listening to beautiful music or if you can’t even do that, how about imagining yourself in a lovely garden, perhaps the beach or mountains. Our minds are such powerful instruments. If we can’t change our external environment, how about changing our internal ones. We can put out mind to work in the service of relaxing US.
Relaxing around the difficulties and challenges
What I’m talking about here is a mind-shift. Okay, I can see you there, arms crossed, rolling your eyes but hear me out. What if, instead of tightening your bodies when your loved one says or does something irritating you take a deep breath instead? What if, instead of feeling that jab in the gut, that tightness in the shoulders, you shrug it off as nothing more than a thoughtless word? What if instead of wanting to scream when the doctor’s assistant tells you that the doctor is running two hours late, you simply accept it and let the anger simply wash over and out of you? What then? How much easier would your day be? I’m not saying that you should suppress or repress any emotion. That’s not it at all. And trust me what I’m saying isn’t easy (I’m still working on it) but what if instead of falling into old patterns of reacting, we choose a somewhat different way?
Talk to a friend, family member, someone that you trust and someone that you feel safe with. Remember, there are support groups: in your neighborhood, on the Internet, people who care, people who want to be there for you. Remember, when it comes to family caregiving, there can never be too much support.
Did you find the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at firstname.lastname@example.org
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