These self-care strategies can help caregivers cope with burnout

These self-care strategies can help caregivers cope with burnout

After another brutal year of care, Denise Brown learned what she needed most and now offers that lesson to others.

Within three months, her 87-year-old mother fell, had a heart attack and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Her 90-year-old father fell twice and needed staples in his head, and her 60-year-old brother died unexpectedly.

“I felt like I was just coping with crisis after crisis,” said Ms. Brown, 58, who lives in Chicago.

Impatient and exhausted, she took a week off, stayed in a hotel in the center, went out for lunch and visited an art museum. “I allowed myself to rest,” she says, accepting the advice she often gives to others as owners of Caregiving Years Training Academy, which trains and certifies care consultants.

The nation’s 53 million unpaid family carers are physically, emotionally and financially drained as they enter another pandemic winter, made more worrying by the rising Omicron variant of Covid-19. The tax on this group, which is the backbone of the country’s long-term care system, providing an estimated $ 470 billion in free care, waves through households and workplaces.

Within three months, Mrs. Brown’s 87-year-old mother fell ill, had a heart attack and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers found that 20% of nursing staff had to quit their full-time jobs, while 44% had to reduce their hours and work part-time, according to a survey conducted in June and published in September.

“Caregivers have increased the number of chronic health conditions” and often deal with depression and isolation, says Jennifer Olsen, CEO of the institute, which offers programs to support caregivers. The institute recently teamed up with Crisis Text Line to offer a 24/7 hotline to nursing staff in need of support.

As the new year approaches, care experts make suggestions to caregivers who want to strengthen their physical, mental and financial health.

Physical health

Luciano Grubissich, medical director of Family First, which offers care-support benefits, saw more relatives in the past year suffer from headaches, stomach aches and insomnia associated with stress and burnout.

“Caring is a very noble thing, but you have to feel good about taking care of someone else,” says Dr. Grubissich, who also has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

‘Caring is a very noble thing, but you have to feel good about taking care of someone else.’


– Dr. Luciano Grubissich, Medical Director of Family First

Call your doctor and make an appointment for a routine check-up or for neglected pain. “When you are overwhelmed, take a small little step,” he says. “Make a call. It could be your New Year’s resolution.”

If you are capable of that, take a break from the physical experience of caring. Create a personal and comforting space in your house or patio, and go there to be alone and gather your thoughts, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Take a walk in your neighborhood or your park, and make it a daily priority. Lifting takes a heavy toll on your back. Try getting a family member or friend to take over for an hour and get a massage.

If you do not sleep well, take a nap when you can, instead of relying on caffeine or energy drinks. Keep healthy snacks around – nuts, fresh fruit or wholemeal breakfast bars – and do not be afraid to send a message to selected friends telling them that you could spend a few prepared healthy dinners.

Financial health

Cynthia Haddad manages the care of her 91-year-old mother and her 62-year-old brother, who has developmental disabilities. She also has two teenagers.

“I’m a super sandwich generation,” says Ms. Haddad, a certified financial planner specializing in special needs planning.

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As one enters the new year, she says families should make a budget, look at last year’s spending and estimate spending in 2022. If there is not enough revenue, look at public services, including for veterans, Supplemental Security Income and lesser known forms of assistance.

For example, tax-free daily scholarships are available in certain states, including Mrs. Haddad’s home state of Massachusetts, for relatives who may be relatives — other than spouses and parents of minor children — and friends. “These are often overlooked,” she says.

The same goes for the Area Agency for Aging, which offers reimbursement for certain supplies and home changes along with help managing bills.

Create a small “solution fund” to solve minor problems, Ms. Brown suggests. If you need to have dinner guests but do not have time to clean, use the solution fund to pay for a cleaning assistant. If you feel isolated, down and bored, consider using your solution fund to add a new streaming service.

Emotional health

For many relatives, worries can feel endless and mentally exhausting. Every concern needs a plan, Ms. Brown says.

Mrs. Brown smears lotion on her father’s arms. Like her, many of the country’s 53 million unpaid family carers have felt strained in the midst of yet another pandemic winter.

If you are worried about who to call or text when there is an emergency, create a phone tree with contact information and the order in which each person should be called. Share it with family members. Ask them if you are unsure what your parents want in their last days or what people they want around, including alienated family members.

Remember to release trapped emotions in a healthy way. During her stay, Mrs Brown saw the 1998 film “Stepmom”, which always makes her cry.

“One will often cry for oneself, for all the pain and suffering one endures and witnesses,” she says. “If you can watch a movie or listen to music that makes you cry, it can be a relief to release those feelings.”

Ask for help. “It’s OK to say you’re running out,” says Dr. Grubissich.

Just admitting it, he says, releases the anxiety. Call your human resources department to see if the company has any benefits related to care, and take advantage of them if they have. If they do not, check out the Eldercare Locator, which lists services and resources, including meals, home care, transportation, and relief options available in different communities.

Write to Clare Ansberry at clare.ansberry@wsj.com

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