Sometimes, caring for a sick, injured or elderly loved one can leave us feeling physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. This doesn't make us weak or selfish. It's a normal response to wanting and trying to do more than we are able.
The symptoms that can result are known as caregiver burnout.
Getting the support you need is key.
It's so easy to feel guilty taking time away from our loved one to care for ourselves for a bit—but doing exactly that is necessary both for our sake and for theirs.
These are ways you can care for yourself:
- Accept your limitations and ask for help when you need it.
- Consider joining a support group for caregivers.
- Consider respite care services. Respite care (for example, a few hours of in-home care each week) can give you a break to do what you need to do for yourself.
- Replenish yourself with good food, solid sleep and healthy movement on a daily basis.
- Talk to a mental health professional.
Here's how Carilion Clinic helps support our professional caregivers.
Caregiver burnout can even affect health care professionals and first responders who care for sick and injured people as part of their jobs. Carilion Clinic's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) helps make sure that the health care professionals who care for you and your loved ones have what they need to take care of themselves as well. That could mean traditional counseling and referrals, or additional tools like:
- Outreach to those experiencing COVID-19-related challenges
- Virtual support groups for leaders and teams
- Web-based seminars on building resiliency
"Carilion's EAP serves 14,000 employees and their families, as well as 80 more regional organizations, and we pivoted early in the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure continuity of care," says Neely Conner, EAP director. "We had implemented a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform before the shutdown. Then, we expanded our services and developed new ones to meet the unique needs our health care team members are experiencing now."
Similar mental health resources may be available to you.
"Many businesses and organizations offer short-term counseling to employees through partnerships with EAP programs," said Neely. "Check with your employer to find out whether they have an EAP program included in your benefits package."
Could you be going through caregiver burnout?
It's important to recognize the signs of caregiver burnout, which include:
- Changes in appetite and/or weight loss or gain
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Feeling down, irritable, hopeless or helpless
- Feeling physically and emotionally exhausted
- Getting sick more frequently than usual
- Loss of interest in activities and withdrawal from friends and family
If you are in a caregiver role and any of these signs sound familiar, talk with your health care provider or other trusted professional as soon as you can about how you can get some support.