*This story was originally published in the winter issue of HealthSource, the UVM Medical Center’s health and wellness newsletter.

By Amy Jelen, HomeShare Vermont

You’ve probably heard the statement that you have to take care of yourself before you can care for someone else. This is especially true for caregivers. Whether a family member caring for a loved one or a professional caregiver, it’s common to become stressed with the endless tasks involved—from keeping food on the table, to bathing and dressing, managing doctor’s appointments, helping with continence care and possibly dealing with difficult behaviors.
A daughter looking at her mother.

You may become so focused on the caregiving that you don’t pay attention to your own health, but it’s vital for caregivers to take time for their own physical, mental and spiritual self-care to avoid burnout.  At the greatest risk are those who live with their care recipient, have the sole responsibility for providing care, or care for someone with dementia.

Watch for these signs of burnout:

  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Feeling isolated.
  • Feeling guilty spending time on you.
  • Getting sick more often.
  • Showing impatience or irritability toward the person receiving care.

Too much stress, especially over a long time, will affect anyone’s health, and the emotional and physical demands of caregiving in particular can strain even the most resilient person. These strategies can help:

  • Find some help—If you’re a family member, consider hiring some respite care or get a family member or friend to share some of the responsibilities. This can range from a few hours of in-home care, to a visit to an adult day program or a short stay in an assisted living facility, to having a home sharer through HomeShare Vermont.
  • Talk with others—It’s easy for caregivers to feel isolated. Whether in-person or online, support groups with other caregivers are a great way to learn new ideas, find encouragement, and fight the feeling that you are all alone.
  • Take a walk—Exercise is good for countless reasons and you don’t need a gym membership or intense workouts to reap the benefits. Studies show that exercise combats depression by relieving tension, inducing calm, and making it easier to handle anxiety.
  • Get enough sleep—Lack of adequate sleep increases irritability and makes it difficult to have the patience necessary to provide good care. Arrange for occasional overnights off with some respite care or take advantage of opportunities for naps during the day.
  • Talk to a professional—Most therapists and clergy members are trained to counsel individuals dealing with a wide range of stressors.

Some days it seems impossible to find a healthy balance, but caring for you is part of caring for your loved one. By recognizing your warning signs and taking steps to reduce the stress in your life, you’ll support your own emotional and physical health. You are worth it!

 Amy Jelen is the Homesharing Coordinator at HomeShare Vermont, a nonprofit committed to bettering the lives of seniors and people with disabilities by helping them stay in their homes.

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