November is National Family Caregivers Month. An important part of Westside Terrace Healthcare’s mission is to provide extra support for family caregivers. When a loved one is ill or unable to independently care for themselves anymore, it is natural for family members and/or friends to want to care for them. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about 1 in 3 Americans are caregivers. It can be emotionally rewarding to give your time to help others do what they cannot do for themselves. Despite the positives, caring for another person can sometimes be a full-time job. If medically-complex care is required, that can take a toll on the caregiver.
In addition to jobs or other responsibilities, most family caregivers spend an average of 24 hours a week caring for a loved one. It is not uncommon for people to experience stress and caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is a condition caused by stress that impacts the mental and physical well-being of a caregiver. It can be a harmful condition that may impact the lives of both the caregiver and the person for which they are caring.
The stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic put caregivers at even greater risk for burnout. The Carer Well-Being Index, a global research study, surveyed family caregivers in the fall of 2020 about the impact COVID-19 has had on them. Many experienced increased responsibilities and demands on their time. When caring for another person, it can be difficult to care for your own health. About 91 percent of the survey respondents said they’ve put the needs of the person(s) they are caring for above their own during the pandemic.
According to the HHS, caregivers are more at risk for respiratory ailments such as colds and the flu. Caregivers are also more likely to have long-term or chronic health problems such as diabetes or arthritis. In addition to not paying enough attention to their physical health, a caregiver may not focus enough on their mental and emotional well-being. They may ignore when they feel stressed or overwhelmed and this could lead to the more serious problem of becoming burned out. If a person is feeling one or more of the following signs, burnout could be the culprit.
Signs of burnout
- Anxiety, depression, irritability
- Feeling tired and run down
- Difficulty sleeping
- Overreacting to minor problems
- New or worsening health issues
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling resentful
- Drinking, smoking or eating more
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Cutting back on leisure activities
Caring for themselves
In addition to following COVID-19 prevention guidelines, caregivers must commit to a lifestyle that protects and strengthens their physical and mental health. They can start with small changes such as a healthy diet and regular exercise. Even taking 10 to 30 minutes out of the day for exercise such as a walk can be beneficial. The increased need for isolation and changes in social activities during the pandemic worsened caregivers’ mental health. Caregivers need to dedicate time to manage their stress and practice coping techniques, such as deep breathing, prayer, doing enjoyable activities or speaking with a friend.
Caregivers should use their support network or local community services. For example, they could ask a relative or friend to do the grocery shopping or make cooked meals for them. One option caregivers can also consider is respite care for their loved one. This is a short-term stay in a nursing facility that can be beneficial to the caregiver and their loved ones. The caregiver will have the peace of mind of leaving their loved one in the hands of caring, trained professionals. Their loved ones will get 24-hour medical care and the added benefit of a new social environment with diverse activities.
No matter what methods or resources they use, caregivers must make their own well-being a priority. Ultimately, reaching out for support or resources will protect them and those they love.