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Caregiver Burnout – Before, During and After COVID-19

If you are caring for a loved one either at home or in a senior living community, like most people there may be times you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, irritable, worried, and confused. There can be good days, even joyful days, but there are also hard days when you – like others – feel you have reached the limit. During the current health care concerns of COVID-19, caregiving situations are even more taxing. With little or no notice people were prevented from visiting loved ones at nursing homes, assisted living or even independent living facilities. Others who were caring for a loved one at home became isolated and rightfully fearful about COVID-19 exposure. Managing care or making decisions became more complex. Such caregivers worry about the helpers they’ve hired to provide home care. Arranging for even routine medical care is more complex. If you may have been considering a move to a nursing home, assisted or independent living community, that confusing decision became even harder. You are trying to provide the best care, but how and where?

It is critical for those who provide the care or arrange for it to take care of themselves. With increased stress, responsibility, and daily demands, it’s easy to ignore your own care. Perhaps some days you find you must respond to the needs of the moment without tending to yourself, but no one can do that for an extended period. Nearly everyone will experience the symptoms of being overwhelmed “burned out” some of the time. Perhaps, though, like others you are starting to feel them too much of the time, and even with great effort, you may be hard pressed to provide the kind of consistent care for your loved one that you want to.

Here are some symptoms to pay attention to:

• Prolonged Exhaustion

• Difficulty Sleeping

• Lack of Appetite or Overeating or Drinking to Relieve Stress

• Irritability

• Unrelenting and Unproductive Worry

• Anger

• Resentment

• Frustration

• Shame

• Guilt

It’s important to try to prevent burnout to the extent possible. Setting up some good habits early on can help prevent more intractable problems. There’s no one solution for everyone. The things that relieve stress for one person, may not work for you. You will need to pay attention to you and your mood. As you try to respond to your needs, ask yourself if the activity you choose is actually lowering your level of stress or increasing it. For example, reaching out to some people may make you feel better while others may not. Make good choices about whom to call. Use caller ID to take control over whom you wish to speak with and when. Reach out to those you find helpful and accept their help. They may not know what you need, so be specific. Could you use a few groceries or a cup of tea? Perhaps someone can provide time for a break for you do some things that renew you.

Rest. Try to maintain a schedule that allows you to go to bed at about the same time each evening as best you can. Turn off electronic screens at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. Turn off the news and put down the newspaper, except perhaps to do a crossword puzzle if you find it relaxing. Read a book. Meditate, pray, if they help you (meditation apps and relaxation soundtracks can help). Quiet your day and your mind. Take time to exercise, though not at bedtime. Walk outside if you can. If you worry, try to make lists of what worries you and write realistic responses to the items that concern you. If you can’t get away for a few hours on a given day, take “micro-breaks.” Stepping outside, even for a few minutes can revive your spirits. Eat healthful meals. Indulging in comfort foods is fine within reason. Suspend self-judgment when you feel critical about “falling short.”

Your situation is not static. Solutions that worked yesterday may not work today, while options that seemed out of reach, may become more possible. You want to plan ahead, but it’s hard to know how. It can be helpful to know what choices you will have. You are likely trying to chart this course for the first time, but others have done so before you. You may want to consult an expert, such as an Aging Life Care professional in your area. You can search for one and find other resources at their association website.

Remember: Self-care is not a luxury: it’s a necessity.

This blog was written by Vanessa Bishop, MSW, LCSW, CMC, C-ASWCM. Vanessa, an Aging Life Care Expert based in Reston, VA is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Care Manager, and Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager. She founded Elder Care Consultants, Inc. in 2001. She has a wealth of knowledge and diverse areas of practice, including care and case management, crisis intervention, advocacy, counseling, consultation, education, and the assessment of mental and functional capacity. Her knowledge and experience is constantly growing deeper and updated through active practice and involvement in her areas of concentration and specialties. To learn more about Vanessa, please click here.

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