One of the biggest hurdles many family caregivers face is reaching out for help. Between knowing what to ask, when to ask, and whom to ask - taking such action can be challenging. Whether due to uncertainty, reluctance or refusal, not reaching out for help can eventually cause caregiver burnout - physical, mental or emotional exhaustion that impedes on the ability to provide the best care to a loved one. So the question becomes, how do you know if you are on the path to burning out and what can you do about it? First we'll start with warning signs:
You Don't Get Sufficient Rest
Caring for another individual, especially a parent, can lead to endless nights of thinking, "What's going to happen to Dad?" or "How am I going to manage caring for my parent as well as work and care for my family?" Such thoughts are common for caregivers to experience throughout the day but for some, they will also experience it when they are finally resting or trying to sleep. This worrying often prevents caregivers from getting the rest they need thereby becoming more exhausted and more overwhelmed.
You Don't Have a Reliable Support Network
Not receiving help from your significant other, siblings, or other relatives could also lead to caregiver burnout. An unreliable support network, not to be confused with your family/friends not fully understanding your caregiving role, can sometimes cause more stress. Whether attributable to family dynamics or past conflicts, lack of support can lead to burnout if not recognized early enough and addressed.
Lack of Support at Work
Caring for a loved one while working can also cause significant stress, especially if your loved one needs constant supervision and/or attention. While it is normal to take a day off from work to tend to childcare needs, some caregivers shy away from taking off when caring for their parents for various reasons. This juggling act between the work and caregiving can be an extremely exhausting and stressful experience, especially if both responsibilities are demanding.
If any of these signs sound familiar, then you should be reaching out for help. Here are some ways you can do so:
Learn About Available Resources
Learn as much as you can about your loved one's medical condition, associated behavioral symptoms, and available community resources. Resources like support groups, respite care and other senior or caregiver-related services can help give you a break by alleviating some of your responsibilities. Being familiar with certain entitlements like the the Family Medical Leave Act can also help alleviate the pressure of juggling work and caring for your loved one.
Ask Friends and Family for Help
Never underestimate how helpful it can be to delegate minuscule tasks to friends, family members or neighbors. From picking up essentials like milk and bread, to driving your loved one to appointments these tasks often prevent caregivers from being able to relax and recuperate. By asking someone else to help you with your daily errands, however, it can reduce how much running around you have to do and give you a chance to "recharge."
Consult with a Geriatric Professional
In many cases, family caregivers try the above and get the break they need but also have a hard time dealing with the stress of knowing their parent(s) are aging or their loved one's health is declining. Sometimes, the only way to address such stress is by contacting a geriatric professional for counseling. And while it may be difficult to pick up the phone and admit you need help, the truth is that by taking such action you can receive help to reduce any anxiety, loneliness, or hopelessness you may feel.
Christine M. Valentin is a geriatric clinical social worker licensed in NJ and NY. She specializes in providing information and counseling to family members who are concerned about an older adult, spouse or significant other. She has an office in Downtown Summit, NJ and is currently accepting new clients. She also hosts a free monthly support group for caregivers in NJ and NY. To join the group or learn about upcoming meetings, visit http://www.meetup.com/familycaregivergroup/.