How to avoid carer burn out

The carer relationship is a partnership that needs to safeguard the well-being of both parties to preserve it. Learn how to avoid and notice the signs of carer burnout to better preserve your relationships.

15th Jun 2018 | HEALTH | ENRICH LIVING

Carers often find themselves experiencing carer burnout when they find themselves suddenly in their new roles with little time to prepare and understand what the change means. They are usually highly empathetic people with an equally high sense of personal responsibility making carers prone to feeling overwhelmed, undervalued or unappreciated.

To avoid carer burnout, learn to watch out for the signs of carer stress and take the time to notice changes like:

  • Big emotional swings – sad one moment, furious the next
  • Small things are bothering you that wouldn’t normally
  • An ongoing negative or cynical attitude
  • Feeling like you never do enough and the workload is insurmountable
  • Catching lots of flus and bugs
  • Feeling like you don’t have the time to do anything for yourself
  • Experiencing physical symptoms like headaches or weight loss / weight gain.

Carer burnout is not inevitable – but acknowledging it can help you learn to notice stress signs, look after yourself, protect your relationship and make sure you plan ahead so you can continue to provide support to your loved one well into the future.

Here are some great tips ad resources to make sure you are mindful of carer burnout and looking after yourself.

Let’s talk about some rules

Those who have been carers for some time often say it would have been great to talk about the relationship dynamics right from the start and establish some boundaries or rules.

The carer relationship is a partnership that needs to safeguard the well-being of both parties to preserve it. Setting these boundaries might take the form simply of a discussion or it could mean a more formal writing down of agreed rules and definitions.

It also marks a point in time where you both feel things have changed and will help you plan for further change and set the tone for a collaborative approach. Often just having an agreement, even in an informal way, will help establish that the carer relationship is a partnership that needs to safeguard the well-being of both parties to preserve it.

Boundaries also help when you need say ‘no’ in a positive way to carve out time for yourself and be assured this will be understood in the right way. An independent person can really help with this process, like a counsellor.

Carers Australia offers a free National Carer Counselling program. You can connect with your local state carers association via the Carers Australia website.

Asian senior couple enjoying cup of tea

A date with yourself

It can be a cliché, but finding time for yourself in the middle of navigating the needs of someone you care for is super important, but it does take a conscious effort. At the ground level this means regularly making time for healthy eating, exercise, getting a good night’s sleep but, it is also about purposely prioritising activities that are important to you. This will help you to maintain your sense of control, purpose and your individuality in the relationship.

Time management experts recommend you prioritise ‘me time’ every day, similar to fuelling up a car for a long road trip. Keep this appointment with yourself as a top priority no matter what comes up and spend it doing something you enjoy or just relaxing. It is also important to regularly make plans and set goals to help you keep on track with your own goals, wishes and desires – and keep the tank full!

Be open to new things

Often we get stuck thinking things should be a certain way in life and feeling a personal sense of duty or responsibility – this can lead to feeling trapped. Breaking out of thought patterns can really help you de-stress and imagine different possibilities for yourself and your relationship.

Why not set yourself the task to try something completely new or challenging?

Think outside of the box, why not try a fitness class, a mystery holiday, learn to paint, try a new job… the choices are endless. Doing something unexpected can lead to unexpected benefits, new friendships, new skills, invigorate a relationship and offer a refreshing change in mindset.

Help me blackboard sign on brick wall

Ask for help when you need it

Busy carers often forget to ask for help when they need it, so be confident, put your hand up and ask questions. Start simple and consider reaching out to family, friends and neighbours to help out where they can – don’t assume they can see that you need help.

Educate yourself about what formal help is available. There are many services available through various government subsidised programs that will support you and your loved one’s needs and provide respite hours for you on a regular basis.

Check out our great summary of these programs, including the home care packages, plus various respite options under the Commonwealth Home Support Program. Talk to your family health practitioners like your GP, social worker or counsellor and ask what support is available to you.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your own situation as there are many unique ways in which people find themselves providing care. Consider connecting with other carers for support, friendship or just to share your story.

Check out the Carers Australia website to connect with your local carers association and carers support group or call 1800 242 636 to find out what is happening in your local area. Also make sure you check out the various financial supports available such as Carers Allowance.

The Australian Government website Carers Gateway has some great information on this and lots of other carer related subjects. To talk through any persistent concerns call Beyondblue Support Service – 1300 22 4636 or visit the Beyond Blue website.

For the ultimate guide to carers for an older loved one and getting the support you need, explore our great guide for carers.

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