Six Ways to Manage Caregiver Burnout

Caregiving demands physical, mental and emotional stamina. To give the best care to your loved one, start with caring for yourself.

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At some point in our lives, there’s a good chance we’ll find ourselves caring for another person. In Canada and the U.S. 1 in 5 adults (mostly women) are providing unpaid care for a parent, sibling, spouse, child with special needs, older relative, or friend.

While a rewarding experience, caregiving can also be demanding—and in ways we might not be prepared for. According to Statistics Canada, 56% of unpaid caregivers say that the role leaves them exhausted. Many feel worried, anxious and overwhelmed, and 30% suffer sleep issues.

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The most common age range for caregivers in Canada is 45-64, a time when women might still have children at home (“sandwich caregivers”), and be juggling careers and experiencing other transitions in their lives—such as menopause. Taking on the role of caregiver can exacerbate physical health issues commonly experienced during midlife: joint pain, fatigue, bladder leaks and more. It can feel isolating.

You’re not alone! There are practical ways to manage the emotional, mental and physical demands of caregiving. The key is recognizing the signs of potential burnout before the situation impacts your health and relationships.

Some common burnout signs to look out for:

  • Loss of interest in activities or spending time with loved ones
  • Weight changes or loss of appetite
  • Exhaustion: emotional or physical
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness
  • Sleep disruptions or insomnia
  • Experiencing frequent illnesses
  • Irritability, feeling negative emotions for the person you’re caring for

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, check in with your medical professional. At home, here are some tips to help manage your mental and physical wellbeing:

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Talk it out.

As a caregiver, feeling overwhelmed or angry is completely normal. Share your experiences—openly and honestly—with friends, family or a neighbour. Or join a caregiver support group; here you can share frustrations about caregiving challenges with others in your situation, as well as find helpful resources. Talking can help you feel less alone and more supported, especially when facing the dual stresses of home life and caregiving. Professional help is another option—whether via a therapist, counsellor, social worker or community resource, such as a clergy member or elder.

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Exercise for a calmer mind.

Finding time to exercise can be tough, but the health benefits are worth it: improved sleep, better cardiovascular health and a stronger body. That sense of accomplishment, knowing that you prioritized your own health, also fosters a positive mindset. Try to get 30 minutes of endorphin-boosting activity per day. And yes, housework counts!

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Eat well. Stay hydrated.

It’s tempting to grab fast food as you’re dashing between visits, work and appointments. However, healthy eating—leafy greens, whole grains, dairy and calcium sources, and quality protein—is your best friend when it comes to nourishing your physical and mental health. Drinking good old H20 also increases energy, reduces fatigue, improves alertness and keeps your body running like a well-oiled machine.

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Organize and prepare.

When you’re juggling multiple priorities, it can feel overwhelming—taking charge of your day can help you feel more in control and lessen that anxiety. Find a good management system or caregiving app to track appointments, medical files and medication timing. Educate yourself about your loved one’s illness so you know what to expect and how best to help. Check out the wealth of caregiver advice and support available. And be sure to prepare what you need in order to feel confident throughout the day.

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Do one thing for you every day.

It’s important to carve out time for yourself when you’re focused on caring for others. Taking care of yourself is a necessity, not a luxury! Sit with a mug of tea or listen to a podcast. Or try a relaxing and rejuvenating salt bath: Epsom salts help your body to release toxins, which can soothe sore muscles and reduce body pain from arthritis or other conditions. Take a yoga class or a walk or learn meditation.

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Ask for help.

If you need help, ask—whether it’s getting groceries, picking kids up from school, or coming by for a chat. You might be surprised by the willingness of others to pitch in. Be specific about what will help you.

Being a caregiver is a demanding situation and it can be an emotional time, too, caring for someone you love who is going through a lot of transition, while navigating the challenges of your own life.

Recognize when you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to your support network and take the steps necessary to look after you.