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How to Overcome Caregiver Burnout: Refresh & Renew

By Dr. Felicia Vaughn

Many caregivers share one distinct thing in common…BURNOUT. Burnout has become a pandemic. In addition to the pandemic of COVID-19, it makes a caregiver want to shout, “Houston, we have a problem!” Burnout is described as emotional exhaustion, diminishing empathy for those you care for, and feeling ineffective in your caregiving role. Burnout is spreading through the caregiving landscape like an out-of-control wildfire. Burnout takes a toll on health and wellness, and 69% of family caregivers report caregiving as their #1 source of stress (4).

When considering occupations, alone, the burnout research shows many professionals suffer. Research shows 20 – 25% of teachers, indifferent countries around the globe, experience burnout (9). A 2015, study showed, approximately, 42% of physical therapist experience burnout (1). A recent study by InCrowd, a market research firm, found 79% of primary care physicians suffer from burnout (5). However, if you work as a caregiving professional, while caring for a loved one, too, you hold a dual role, since 60% of caregivers work outside of the home, according to the Mayo Clinic (8).  Many caregivers enjoy caring for the needs of others; however, this does not mean caring does not take a toll on both the body and mind.

To love well, you must learn to give to yourself; otherwise, your giving becomes draped in duty as opposed to giving from a place of love. Eventually, duty will drain your resources; however, love towards yourself and others will offer you a reservoir which never runs dry. If a plant’s soil becomes dry it will need some refreshing or it will, slowly, die.  So, if we feel dry, like plant soil, how do we get refreshed? To be refreshed, we must take time to preserve what has grown dry. Yet, how do we do this as caregivers? We must take time to renew to become refreshed.  We need to have opportunities which consist of having new experiences, developing a new outlook on our circumstances, and forming new habits can all help caregivers stay refreshed. I help my plants by watering them. This simple act of using water as a resource, refreshes each plant; however, I must do this when they show signs of needing it and I must be consistent.

Caregiving requires the resources of time, strength, and energy to care for our love ones or customers; however, we become depleted unless we take the steps to refresh and replenish. Think about it. On a HOT summer day, a COLD glass of water can be refreshing. By introducing a cold drink, as a contrast to the hot day you are experiencing, your thirst is quenched.  This met need refreshes you and replenishes your resource of fluid back into your body to prevent dehydration. The same idea applies when you are overworked due to a barrage of caregiving task.  The contrast to this constant state of caregiving work, in essence your hot day, is one simple thing… REST.  Finding rest in the form of leisure and relaxation is akin to drinking your cold glass of water. If this is necessary for plants, it is necessary for you!

Hopefully, the following resources, presented in a new light, plants need light, too, can help you become refreshed, especially in the midst of all the unrest we are experiencing in our world, today:

Time – You can not replenish the time you have, but what I have learned is you can choose to spend your time well by indulging in an activity which brings you rest and relaxation. If you are a family caregiver, the level of care your family member needs may impact the amount of time you can get for yourself; however, research shows taking breaks, as a coping strategy, can help caregivers avoid distress (6). One way to accomplish this, whether professional or family caregiver, is by asking for help and then having a willingness to receive the help someone is willing to give to you. Asking for help may not be a new idea, but the truth is caregivers, rarely, do this for a variety of reasons. Developing the new habit of asking for and receiving help can open a world of opportunities to experience becoming refreshed. Of course, we have to consider the safety of our loved ones, in light of COVID-19, so it is important to consider who we reach out to for extra assistance. As my mother’s primary caregiver, my brother know she can turn to me for the help he needs. When she is with me, I turn to my husband or sons for extra help, when needed. If you asked for help and were open to receiving it, what would you do with a little free time for yourself to become refreshed?

Strength – Refreshing your strength can be done by taking breaks, but I have, recently, found strength training, a new experience for me, as a great way to build and maintain both my physical and mental strength.  My weight training routine is not meant to make me a body builder. However, my brother and I have chosen not to rely on visits from the Hospice nurse, to protect our mother from COVID-19, so when mom visits me, my caregiving task include bathing and dressing her, which requires replenished physical and psychological reserves to get through this strenuous process. Research shows that exercise may improve the psychological health of those caring for dementia patients (7). I may not be resting while I am working out, but exercise helps to improve my internal rest, by diminishing anxiety and improving my mental health.  What new fitness activity would you be willing to incorporate into your lifestyle if you knew it would refresh both your physical and mental strength?

Energy – Exercise helps build strength, and our energy reserves; however, I have found another source of energy, too. It’s music! Music is a great energy source. There is something about a great song to get you up and moving, but music can, also, help you feel calm and relaxed. InPsychology Today, Dr. Nina Kraus’ research, as a neuroscientist, is mentioned which highlights the impact music has on our brains by influencing our nervous system, through our brainstem, which has been shown to alter our moods (2). Our moods can impact our mindset which can serve as a great energizing and motivating source when we are in a “good” mood.  When bathing my mother, I will turn on music and it is amazing how the process goes by quicker as we both sing together. Listening to an “oldie but goodie”, may make your caregiving task feel “fresh”. What song puts you in a good mood or helps you to feel calm and relaxed?

Dr. Brene’ Brown, author of Gifts of Imperfection, says, “In a society that says, ‘Put yourself last’, self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary” (3).  If this is the case, are you ready to start a love revolution for caregivers?  If yes, then start, today, by choosing to say, “yes” to your wellness by giving care to yourself first!

Author’s Bio: Dr. Felicia Vaughn is founder & CEO of Wonderfully Well, a wellness intervention company created to help caregivers overcome burnout, stress, and compassion fatigue.  She has a PhD in Organizational Psychology, is a Certified Career Management Coach, Certified Worksite Wellness Specialist, and a Certified Wellness Coach. If you or a caregiver you know is finding it difficult to get started on working on wellness reach out to Wonderfully Well, today.

You can find Dr. Felicia Vaughn on:

Instagram: @wonderfully_well

LinkedIn: Wonderfully Well profile

Website: www.wonderfullywell.com

YouTube: Wonderfully Well channel

Article References:

1. Anderson, E.Z. (2014). Stress and burnout in physical therapists. Retrieved from https://doi.org/doi:10.7282/T3H70HPB  

2. Bergland, C. (2012). The neuroscience of music, mindset and motivation: Simple ways you can use music to create changes inmindset and behavior. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 7/29/2020 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201212/the-neuroscience-music-mindset-and-motivation.

3. Brown, B. (2010).  The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. (Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing, 2010).

4. Caring.com. (2011) Family caregivers face major financial burdens, increased stress, and work struggles. Retrieved on 7/30/2020from https://www.caring.com/about/news-room/family-caregivers-face-major-financial-burdens-increased-stress-and-work-struggles

5. InCrowd (2019). Physician burnout 2019.  Retrieved on 7/29/2020 from https://incrowdnow.com/syndicated-reports/physician-burnout-2019/

6. Knussen, C., Tolson, D., Brogan, C., Swan, I.,Stott, D., & Sullivan, F. (2008). Family caregivers of older relatives: Ways of coping and change in distress. Psychology, Health, &Medicine, 13(3), 274 – 290. Retrieved on 7/29/2020 from Academic Search Complete database.

7. Lamotte, G., Shah, R. C., Lazarov, O., &Corcos, D. M. (2017). Exercise Training for Persons with Alzheimer's Disease and Caregivers: A Review of Dyadic Exercise Interventions. Journal of MotorBehavior, 49(4), 365–377. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222895.2016.1241739

8. Mayo Clinic Staff (2020).  Caregiver stress:  Tips for taking care of yourself.  Retrieved on 7/29/2020 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784

9. McCarthy, C.J. (2019).  Teacher stress:  Balancing demands and resources.  Phi Delta Kappan, 101(3), 8 – 14.Retrieved on July 28, 2020 from Academic Search Complete database.

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