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An increasing number of people across the UK are caregivers, caring for their loved ones in their own homes. Whilst this can be incredibly fulfilling, there is no doubt it can be hard work, emotionally and physically.

If you care for a loved one at home, your own needs can sometimes be forgotten. The ongoing physical demands and emotional burden can lead to stress, anxiety, frustration and physical health problems. Acknowledging the importance of your own needs, as well as your loved one’s, ultimately leads to more effective care and a more positive relationship.

In this article, we’ll look to provide you with essential tips on striking a balance between your caregiving responsibilities and personal life. It will cover effective strategies such as setting realistic priorities, carving out dedicated time for personal wellbeing and the importance of learning to say no. We hope to give practical advice that will lead to a harmonious balance, supporting everyone’s health and happiness while enhancing the overall quality of care. 

What is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout is a state you might find yourself in when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the continuous demands of caring for a loved one. Imagine juggling the needs of someone else, alongside your own life’s commitments. It’s not just the physical tasks, like helping with daily activities or managing medications, but also the emotional support you provide. Over time, this relentless routine can lead to exhaustion, both physically and emotionally.

Caregiver burnout can manifest in various ways, and it’s crucial to recognise these signs for both your wellbeing and effective care of your loved one. Some common signs of caregiver burnout include:

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion: You might feel tired most of the time, even after resting or sleeping. This exhaustion can be both emotional and physical, making everyday tasks seem overwhelming.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: You may have difficulty falling or staying asleep, or alternatively, you might sleep too much.
  • Increased irritability or impatience: You could find yourself becoming easily irritated or losing your temper more quickly than usual, even over minor issues.
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression: Experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or excessive worrying can indicate burnout. These feelings may also manifest as a lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Decreased immune function: If you’re getting sick more often, it could be a sign. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, leading to frequent colds or infections.
  • Changes in appetite: Significant changes in appetite, either eating too much or too little, can be a sign of stress and burnout.
  • Neglecting your own needs: Consistently putting your own physical and emotional needs aside to care for someone else can lead to burnout.
  • Withdrawal from social activities: Withdrawing from social interactions, avoiding friends and family, or losing interest in social engagements can be a sign.
  • Feelings of resentment: Feeling resentful towards the person you are caring for, or towards others who seem to have fewer responsibilities, can be a sign of burnout.
  • Reduced personal accomplishment: A sense of ineffectiveness or lack of achievement in your caregiving role, feeling like what you do is not making a difference, can also be a symptom.

Recognising these signs early is crucial for managing caregiver stress and preventing burnout. It’s important to seek support and find ways to look after yourself while caring for others.

It’s crucial to understand that experiencing these feelings doesn’t mean you’re failing or that you don’t care. Rather, it’s a signal that your own needs are also important. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish; it’s essential. You can’t pour from an empty cup, after all. So, it’s important to seek support, whether it’s talking to a friend, joining a support group, or even considering professional help.

Remember, recognising and addressing caregiver burnout is a vital step not just for your own well-being, but also for maintaining the quality of care you provide to your loved one. It’s about finding a balance that works for both of you. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Here are a few other things you can do to relieve the burden…

Setting realistic priorities

When you love someone and want to look after them, it can be hard to acknowledge that sometimes it’s also very difficult. This is especially true if you are juggling other responsibilities, such as work or family commitments.

Try to understand the limitations of your role as a home caregiver. Realistically, what is your capacity balanced against your other responsibilities? It can be helpful to write a list of all your loved one’s needs. This might cover personal care, medical needs, help around the house or support to maintain their social life. Having a list to refer to can help you feel more organised and less overwhelmed with the jobs that need doing.

Look at your list and establish what the essential tasks are, and when they need to happen. Consider whether other people can step into some of these roles. Talk to friends, family, neighbours or healthcare professionals about whether they can help. If you’re employed, ask your manager if there are flexible work options that fit around your loved one’s routine.

Where possible, allow your loved one to be independent and make some decisions for themselves. This will give them greater autonomy in their life, as well as helping your relationship to feel more equal.

Carving out dedicated time for personal wellbeing

It’s really important to consider your own health and wellbeing and find ways to switch off. Although you undoubtedly feel a strong sense of duty to your loved one, avoid feeling guilty about looking after yourself. Providing home care needs to be sustainable, and even with the best intentions, a lack of physical or emotional energy will have a detrimental effect on the care you’re able to provide.

Ensure there’s regular time available for you to pursue your own interests or simply take a break. Set up a plan for someone else to be responsible during these periods so you don’t have to worry, and consider using devices such as personal alarms for extra peace of mind. Ultimately, you’ll come back refreshed and better placed to provide high quality home care.

Caring can feel overwhelming at times, but there are many support groups that exist, both locally and online. These provide safe and supportive environments for people in similar positions to share their experiences and express worries. By taking part in these groups, you’ll realise you’re not alone in your caregiving journey.

As well as your emotional wellbeing, try not to neglect your basic physical needs. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and ensure you have enough sleep. It can be hard to remember these things when you’re busy, but it will help you care for your loved one more effectively.

Learning to say no

Saying no to a person you love can be difficult and leave you with feelings of guilt or inadequacy, but it’s important to acknowledge your own needs in the relationship.

Your journey as a caregiver, especially if it’s long term, will evolve over time. As your loved one’s needs change, their home care plan might need to be adapted. Equally, you might experience changes in your personal life that mean you can no longer provide care in the same way.

Clear but compassionate communication is essential in a healthy relationship with someone you care for. Aim to have open and honest conversations with your loved one about their needs and feelings, but also remember to express your own thoughts. Respect and compassion is important for both of you, and will ensure you maintain a equal and positive relationship.

If you feel you’re unable to continue in some areas of your care, look for alternatives and explain these clearly to your loved one. Acknowledge that you can’t do everything and seek support from others. Consider professional home care services to help take on some of the responsibility.

How can Caremark help?

At Caremark, we work hand in hand with caregivers and their loved ones to support them through their journey. Whether that’s occasional respite care or more regular visits, we can tailor care plans to your unique needs.

If you’d like to talk to us, please phone or email our team of dedicated professionals. We’re always happy to help.

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