Can You Unplug From Being A Caregiver?

Caregiver Burnout: Exhausting your own Health

Caregivers often care so much for others that they forget to care for themselves.  When a caregiver doesn’t take the time to de-stress, it can lead to many physical and mental health problems.  Stress is a major cause of health problems in the U.S. and caregivers often have stress in spades.

24/7 Overtime:

Caregivers often don’t take vacations (no one to fill-in).The don’t  find the time for themselves (they are pulling double-duty). Sometimes, they need to take extra time off work in their career (mom has a doctor’s appointment), and feel guilty if they do something for themselves (Dad could use more groceries, the garbage will be sitting out too long, etc.).  Caregivers frequently have an “I’m the only one” and a “fix it” mentality so they may not be able to unplug totally. But the only way to prevent personal exhaustion is to take a break and allow time to recharge.

To Prevent overload and exhaustion; Plan ahead and Get Help:

Set Healthy Boundaries

Your loved one is important, but so are you.  Healthy living includes finding a balance between your obligations and pleasurable activities.  It is okay to take a break.  The daily routine of caregiving can be mind-numbing and exhausting.  Rejuvenate by incorporating small pleasures into your daily routine.  Have your favorite drink and relax in a chair, go for a walk, read a book, listen to an entertaining radio program, watch a favorite show, talk to a friend, sit outside, take a nap, or go shopping for something fun.  These small interludes can break up the daily grind and rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit.  Your care receiver will reap the benefits of a happier and rested you. When I was taking care of my Dad as he was dying, I did all these things. It did not take all the stress away. The hurt, pain, and grieving were still there. I was very busy, but it helped me keep my head above water so that I didn’t fall totally apart.

Plan Ahead:

It isn’t all up to you.  There are services that can help.  Call your county for services.

For example in Anoka County, there are senior centers, Extended Care providers, a senior information line, outreach services, and senior services. Call your county for a directory of senior facilities and find out what they offer. United Way 2-1-1 can point you in the right direction and answer your questions. AARP ( has a book you can request called the “Checklist for Family Caregivers.” Gather information about what you need, make checklists and seek ways to set up tasks ahead of time to free up a break for yourself. Accept the fact that caregivers are not super human. It is OK to seek help. Have unbiased people you trust to help you set up healthy boundaries for your caregiving responsibilities. Then be willing to delegate some of your “duties” to other family members or caregiving services.

Medication Management:

An added burden of extended care is often having to be accountable for replacing, updating and dispensing medication. Insurance companies often only give you a few days leeway to refill prescriptions. You can try to enlist the help of your pharmacy. Pharmacies can automatically refill medications and notify you when the doctor needs to OK more refills. Labeled pillboxes are a helpful tool so you can make the days and times meds need to be taken and fill them a week ahead for daily use. These suggestions can make this task less burdensome.

Hardships of Day to Day Duties:

As a caregiver, you often have to take over or supervise the running of the household. Grocery shopping, meals, laundry, cleaning and outside tasks become an added weight on your shoulders. Here are some helpful tips: stock up on staples (toilet paper, shampoo, etc.) write a grocery list and pick up yours and your loved ones food items at the same time but keep theirs in a separate box. You can prepare meals ahead of time or pick up fixings for easy meals: hot dogs, sandwiches, canned or fresh vegetables or fruit, frozen dinners, etc. Make a list for your care receiver of meal options so they don’t forget your stress-free choices. Here are some time-saving ideas: mix their laundry with your own; hire yard-work services or ask a neighbor to take out the garbage to the curb if you set it outside. Maybe a trusted neighbor can bring in the mail daily( or put it in a box by the door), have your loved one make lists of what they need so you can stay on top of it. Don’t forget, if you are getting overwhelmed, seek county, outside or family help. It won’t do anyone any good if you end up in the hospital.

Keep in |Regular Touch:

You may not be able to visit on a daily basis. That’s OK. Set up a system for a daily check-up. It can be a phone call, text, Skype, email or pre-addressed postcards. You don’t need to be the only one. Schedule a communication chain. Monday’s grown granddaughter calls, Tuesday’s son phones, Wednesday’s best friend can touch base and etcetera. You only need to be informed if there is a problem the caller can’t handle. This will help your elder to feel cared about, in touch and engaged mentally.

Set-up Emergency Solutions:

From time to time, problems will occur. But you can be prepared for this contingency. A cell phone, personal alarm, a neighbor checking in daily are all options for prevention. Write up a list of Emergency Numbers, 911, doctor, hospital, clinic, or insurance info.  Important Tip: Put all essential information on a large sign in a central location for First responders. In an emergency, people get confused but if the essential info is out in the open like names, address, phone numbers, insurances; the rescue crew will have what they need. If you feel this info would be better put away, just have a note as to where a file for this info can be located in a moment’s notice. Things always go smoother if there are emergency remedies in place ahead of time.

Caring for Yourself is Essential:

Caregiver burnout is real. Please take some time to love yourself. Most caregivers have wonderful attributes like thoughtfulness, dependability, and kindness. Extend these courtesies to yourself. Because it is these very qualities that make a caregiver feel guilty if they are not helping 100% – 24/7. Cut yourself some slack. You are also a person of worth and value.  Detaching is often the hardest step. Recognize, prevent and avoid caregiver burnout by taking time for yourself.

Burnout prevention is a blessing to all.

When you take care of yourself, you make a better caregiver. Would you want a doctor who has been on call for the last 48 hours or would you prefer the physician who had a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast? This may be a long journey so plan ahead, organize medication dispensing, schedule ways to reduce the hardship of day-to-day chores, plan contacts, set-up emergency solutions and take mental and physical breaks for yourself. Now you have the essential tools to prevent a breakdown. Enjoy this special time with your loved one by delegating care to a variety of services. Plan, outsource, refresh and chill are my recipes for the prevention of caregiver burnout.  

For other resources, try these books: “Help on the Way” by Chris Orestis or “Stages of Senior Care: Your Step by Step Guide to Making the Best Decisions” by Paul Hogan and Lori Hogan.

Other material by this author would be: “A Key Life Skill: Effective Communication” or CD “Relax, Unwind & Sleep”. 

If you need to talk, set up a conversation with Vicki at