5 Ways to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

Sometimes it’s not just the patient who needs rest
Woman reads a book

More than 47 million adults in the US – nearly 20% of the population – are unpaid caregivers.

If you’re one of them, you know how difficult it is to provide focused, compassionate care for your loved one while also juggling the rest of your life, like your job and the daily needs of your family. Caregivers are often called “invisible patients” because they are profoundly impacted by the condition and disease of the patient, but do not receive services or regular support for their needs.

“The physical, emotional and psychological demands of caring can be stressful, resulting in anxiety, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating,” shares Kristin Walsh, RN, employee health nurse for UVM Health Network – Home Health & Hospice. “We refer to this as the ‘burden of care,’ she says, “and to help manage this stress, it’s important for caregivers to make time to focus on their own needs and refresh.”

Finding the time can be difficult. About a third of cancer caregivers, for instance, report spending 20-plus hours each week providing patient care, including medication management, appointment scheduling and household tasks. Women and members of LGBTQIA+ community are disproportionately likely to take on caregiver roles.

But Maija Reblin, PhD, a researcher at the UVM Cancer Center who studies the science of caregiving says, “Although it may seem counterintuitive, taking even small amounts of time for yourself can help you to recharge and make you more effective. We often see better outcomes in patients whose caregivers are better able to manage stress.”

Here are Reblin’s five tips to help avoid burnout and replenish your energy.

1. Ask for help without shame

Don’t be afraid! Asking for help even in small ways can actually be good for you, the person you are caring for and the person providing you help. Support from family and friends is linked to improved health outcomes for both caregivers and patients.

2. Be specific about what help you need

Often, people want to help but don’t know how. So be specific. Instead of saying, “I need to go to the pharmacy,” and hoping someone will volunteer, ask directly and specifically: “Can you pick up this prescription from CVS on Tuesday?” Chances are your friends and family will be thrilled to feel useful.

3. Be clear with your boundaries

Sometimes, the “help” from family and friends may mean more work for you. If a friend stops by to help unannounced, but it disrupts the patient’s routine, gently let them know that their help would be more effective with some notice: “Please call me before you come by so that we can be ready for your help during your visit.”

4. Remember your relationship with the patient

Being a caregiver can sometimes overshadow the previous role you had with the patient as a spouse, sibling, friend, child or parent. Taking time to return to those roles can help your relationship, improve your compassion, and support your well-being.

  • Talk about a trip you took, a special holiday or other important memories. Pulling out some old photos can get the conversation started.
  • Work on a project together, such as a puzzle, coloring book, or a simple meal.
  • Read to one another and talk about what you’ve read.
  • Spend time in the yard or garden or take a walk around the neighborhood or local park.
  • Share a meal without distractions. Talk about the best things that happened that week.

5. Remember your own needs

Often, caregivers put their own activities and needs aside for “later.” Taking time for yourself, even a few minutes, can help reenergize you and build your resilience.

  • Go for a short walk.
  • Step outside in the fresh air and focus on your breathing.
  • Call a friend.
  • Savor a cup of tea or coffee with a snack.
  • Stretch, meditate or exercise.

Take the UVM Caregiver Survey

Help us better understand who our region’s caregivers are and what services they need by participating in our caregiver survey. You can also opt-in to receive updates about caregiving and be contacted about research opportunities. Take the survey.

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