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Caregiver Stress ... Setting Limits to Avoid Burnout

"There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver."

Rosalyn Carter

younger woman offers a glass of water to older woman in caregiver setting

A lot of people who are expected to lead more or less normal lives end up becoming the primary caregiver for somebody they love, such as a parent with Alzheimer’s, a paralyzed spouse, or a child with Down’s syndrome. And no matter how much you love them, if you’re their primary caregiver, you probably suffer from caregiver stress.

It’s really, really not easy being a caregiver. Well, if you want to avoid caregiver burnout, you need to learn to do something you may find difficult: set some limits.

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout is what happens when you experience too much caregiver stress. It can cause an inability to focus, depression, irritability, wild mood swings, insomnia, lack of motivation, and a weakened immune system. In other words, it can make you feel stupid, angry and unable to get anything done, and make you prone to getting sick. And that not only doesn’t help you any, it doesn’t help your loved one either. If you’re going to be providing care for the long term, you need to take care of yourself well enough to be able to provide that care.

Setting Limits

You can’t be available to provide assistance 24 hours a day, you just can’t. You need some time set aside on a regular basis to do the things that you like to do. You should set aside some time daily to do things like listening to your music or reading books you enjoy. Set aside an evening every week to go out to hang out with your friends, or see a movie, or go out to dinner.

There are two other things that you should set aside time for every day. One is getting outside. Whether it’s going for a walk or just sitting on your porch with a cup of coffee, it can be amazing what a literal change of perspective can do for you. The other thing you need to take the time to do every day is something that makes you feel strong.

Whether it’s listening to a special song, working out, or whatever, if you don’t have something that makes you feel strong in your life, it’s too easy to get ground down by constantly putting your needs and wants aside for somebody else.

It is important to really schedule this time, because if you adopt the attitude that you’ll just try to do these things when you have some free time, you too often find that you never have the time. No matter how busy things are, no matter how many things you need to do, you need to limit the amount of time you spend doing them and take care of your own needs.

Forgiving Yourself

It can be truly difficult to set limits like this without feeling guilty. After all, you may think, doesn’t your loved one have it so much worse than you? Shouldn’t you sacrifice everything you have to in order to help them? Isn’t that what love is all about?

It’s natural to feel that way, but it’s not healthy. Once you set some limits, you also need to forgive yourself for doing so. Taking care of your own needs is every bit as important as taking care of your loved one’s needs. Indeed, it’s part of taking care of your loved one’s needs.

Remember, you’re only human. You have limits and needs, and you need to respect them. If you don’t, you are going to burn out, and that can be very hard to recover from. If that happens, who will take care of you or your loved one? It’s OK, really.


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