What Caregivers Need to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
by Megan V. Sennett
At HASA we know and understand that so many of our lives have been impacted by caregivers. And oftentimes, they give and give, but do not ask for anything in return. While this is perfectly ok in the short term, eventually, it may lead to what the experts have penned caregiver burnout or caregiver syndrome. The condition can also lead to compassion fatigue. Are you a caregiver? Do you rely on a caregiver? Do you love a caregiver?
There is plenty of literature and advice geared towards combating, preventing, and overcoming caregiver burnout. However, it is almost facile for the experts who diagnose and offer methods to overcome this condition. It borders on insulting to assume that a caregiver has the capacity to practice self-care, especially while in the throes of intensive care. Furthermore, what about when the patient gets better, or worse, succumbs to the illness or disability? Caregiver trauma is indeed real, and painful, and at times debilitating. Although meditation or therapy or self-care are excellent suggestions for treatment, having the will to seek the treatment is the issue. So, that begs the question: what do caregivers really need to avoid caregiver burnout? Simply stated, they need a caregiver.
How to Be a Caregiver’s Caregiver
So, as a caregiver’s caregiver, what can you provide? You may be surprised by how little you need to offer. Here is a list of ways anyone can lend support.
- Honest Empathy — There is nothing worse for a caregiver than toxic positivity. What’s that? That is when someone tries to put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic. When comforting a caregiver, it is natural to want to be positive. Perhaps telling them to look on the bright side or that they are super strong and your hero. However, the best response when a caregiver shares may be: nothing. Hold their hand, offer a hug, and listen.
- Challenges vs. Victories — Some days are better than others. When reaching out to a caregiver, instead of generically asking how their day is going, ask specific questions. What was your biggest challenge? Tell me one victory from the day? How can I make your day easier today? Or simply, what is something YOU would like to share from today?
- Comfort Food — Providing a meal may seem like an overrated gesture, but it NEVER is. Any night a caregiver does not have to cook and clean up is a good night. Find out a few of their favorite meals. If you like to cook, make a meal and drop it off. If you don’t cook, order to-go or delivery, or even drop off a gift certificate for their favorite restaurant. Further, dinner is not the only meal with which to treat a caregiver. Consider dropping off bagels and cream cheese for breakfast or sandwiches for lunch.
- Friendly Chat — Pick up the phone and call. Stop by and knock on the door. Texts are nice, but a physical conversation can be even better. Caregivers often spend hours in silence and solitude. Hearing another human voice and interacting in a conversation is a welcome reprieve. So, call, knock on the door. Talk about anything and everything.
- A Little Laugh — Smartphones allow us to communicate in many ways: text, social media apps, conversation, etc. We share, like, and post videos, pics, memories, and memes. And sometimes, these make us LOL or smile. So randomly share a meme, a funny video, picture with a caregiver. Give someone a reason to chuckle and provide a moment of mindless entertainment. Remember to be sensitive though and avoid overly offensive material.
- Judgment Free Zone — Caregivers need a moment to be human, to let loose, enjoy normalcy, enjoy living. They know they need a release; however, many will not allow themselves the permission to do so. Encourage time off by setting up a lunch date, stop by with a treat, go for a walk or a hike. Allow the caregiver the time and freedom to simply, be.
- Fresh Clean Home — The last thing a caregiver may have the energy for is routine housework. Offer to come by and tidy up or take care of the laundry. Cut your neighbors grass or pull weeds without asking. If you do not have the time, offer to purchase house cleaning or lawn care services. Having an organized home or a tended yard creates a positive physical environment. It can boost the mood of both the patient and the caregiver.
- Feel the Feels — Caregivers often feel they must be strong. They believe they must always have a handle on the situation. The resulting compassion fatigue may make them numb. As a caregiver’s caregiver allow them the time to feel, to get emotional. Don’t rush to over-comfort them. Encourage their heartfelt release and listen. Allow it to last as long as necessary. Don’t tell them to calm down, or relax, or not to cry, or that everything will be fine. This one takes real commitment: be there, really be there for them, without the need to counsel them.
It’s Ok To Not Be Ok
Caregiver burnout is a palpable condition. It is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. You may notice your friend, spouse, parent, or sibling is retreating or isolating, perhaps apathetic. The best thing you can do to be a caregiver’s caregiver is to turn toward them. Try not to be scared to ask them how they are doing. Be there in any capacity, no matter how small. Understand that they may not respond how you may expect. And, above all, that is ok.