There’s no doubt that a lot goes into caring for a loved one can take on a caregiver — especially during a pandemic, when many caregivers had to balance the health of their families with an aging parent. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how caregivers could feel stressed, guilty for feeling frustrated or burnt out. If you’re one of those people feeling that way, know there is nothing wrong with your emotions. In fact, a lot of caregivers can relate — even if you yourself may not recognize it. During our recent virtual event SK Conversations: The Empowered Caregiver with Depend®, medical experts and caregivers gathered to share their signs of burnout and the steps you can take to combat it.
Dr. Diane Dillon, a practicing psychologist with 25 years of clinical, teaching and leadership experience and a speaker at the event, shared two of the tell-tale signs of burnout: extreme behavior and fast reactions. “When we start getting out of that window of tolerance, we can easily be triggered by normally mundane things that did not bother us and be overly irritable or frustrated,” she says. “We may also have difficulty sleeping, or start overeating, and we might notice that we are excessively using substances like wine, or drugs, or ice cream, even to an extreme extent.” But what exactly can caregivers do to prevent this from happening? We hear a lot of talk about self-care but sometimes not so much about how to put it into practice. Luckily, we have advice — straight from caregivers and experts themselves on how those struggling to take care of themselves can do just that.
Ask for help
More often than not, caregivers feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. According to a recent AARP research report, nearly 4 in 10 caregivers consider their caregiving situation to be highly stressful, while an additional 28 percent report moderate emotional stress. In addition, when caregivers feel alone, 72 percent report feeling high emotional stress, compared to 24 percent of those who do not feel alone. P-Valley star Brandee Evans, who balances being a caregiver and actor, shared that it’s okay to ask for help. “When I first got my mom, it was a really hard time with meltdowns and breaking points,” says Evans. “Allowing people to help you was the best advice I could get because those breakdowns came because we’re trying to do it all. And I would always say to my friend, ‘Well it’s my mom’ or ‘I made this choice so I got to do it.’ Yeah, you did Brandee, but it’s okay to have people help.”
Pause and breathe
This may seem like a no brainer, but a lot of stress from caregiving can be due to not taking the time to pause throughout the day. We know that caregivers balance a lot so being able to take a moment for yourself is crucial to practicing self-care. “It’s such a key thing to be able to hit pause and really take some deep breaths, says Dr. Dillon. “When we deep breathe we slow everything down, we slow down our heartbeat and our blood pressure, the release of stress hormones, and we’re able to create a space between our initial reaction and our chosen response. So when we are triggered and out of that zone, there’s no space for that thought of, ‘Okay, I feel like screaming but let me pause, and the better, more effective response is to do X, Y or Z.'”
Do something for yourself
Caregivers don’t often make time for themselves as they’re constantly battling taking care of different members of their family. And with all the time focused on others, it’s easy to lose sight of the things you enjoy doing. Ciana Singh, a caregiver who looks after her grandmother with dementia, shared that something she does to practice self-care is wake up a bit earlier to do something she enjoys, whether it’s getting organized for the day, meditating, or working out. “Every single morning I carve out an hour for myself to get organized and get ahead of the day,” says Singh. “I find that when I don’t do that, I’m chasing the day.” Happy Healthy Caregiver Founder, Elizabeth Miller said it best, “Every time you think of the “G” word, guilt, replace it with the word ‘grace’ because it’s hard.”
Evans follows a similar self-care routine in that she tries to make time for activities she enjoys doing. For her, she enjoys bowling, hiking, watching movies, drinking a glass of wine and even people watching. “I found myself outside of Walgreens one day just people watching,” says Evans. “You just have to do something for yourself. I was trying to find those little things that would be good for me because that’s what I learned too — I couldn’t be good for [my mother] if I wasn’t good for myself because then you start to resent what you’re doing, and that’s not good for them either because they can feel it.”
Let it R.A.I.N.
Caregivers can often feel guilty for wanting to take time for themselves or for wanting to take time off. To caregivers who have experienced guilt along their journey, Dr. Dillon has a solution that may help: R.A.I.N. (recognize what you’re feeling, whether it be guilt, frustration or stress; allow yourself to feel it because caregivers can sometimes be too busy looking after others, they forget to feel their own feelings; investigate what’s really going on i.e. question if you should actually feel guilty; and nurture yourself with self compassion, regardless of what you find). “What that means for me is, be nice to Diane,” she says. “I say to myself, ‘Be gentle with yourself.’ I try to say this out loud because life is hard. Nobody’s here on vacation. This is hard stuff that we’re all grappling with, so I love that acronym R.A.I.N. because you really can do it at any time.”
Go to therapy
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from depression — twice the rate of the general population. Regardless of if you’re a caregiver experiencing symptoms of depression or simply want to talk to someone about how you feel, therapy can be very beneficial to your overall mental well-being. Evans recommends it as she is a therapy advocate herself saying, “Y’all get a therapist. It’s okay and it doesn’t make us crazy. You need it. I’m really excited to start in person with my therapist. I think that’s going to help — I know it is from what I hear. I’m going to be new to that so y’all can follow me along the journey.”
This article was created by SheKnows for Depend®.