Caregiving can be an all-consuming experience.
Between making doctor’s visits, deciphering insurance coverage, providing emotional support and taking care of daily necessities, it can leave little time for anything else.
It’s a recipe for burnout. Caregivers need to ensure they are also taking care of themselves, which ultimately will help them provide better care to others, says UCI Health clinical social worker Gladys Newbury, MSW.
Signs of caregiver burnout
“Caregiver burnout involves physical, mental and emotional exhaustion,” says Newbury, a longtime health social worker with the UCI Health neurology team.
“The symptoms are similar to those experienced by people suffering from anxiety and depression.”
Signs may include:
- Sleeping difficulties (trouble falling asleep; waking in the middle of the night)
- Concentration problems
- Weight changes from eating too much or too little
- Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless or helpless
- Social isolation
Burnout may also be accompanied by physical symptoms, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, an estimated 46% to 59% of caregivers are clinically depressed.
Coping with burnout
Newbury suggests several strategies for reducing caregiver burnout:
- Prioritize activities. “Understand that you can’t do everything,” she says. “Decide what’s important now and prioritize that. Set achievable goals by breaking complex tasks into smaller steps.”
- Seek support. “Ask family and friends for help. Give them specific tasks such as doing a load of laundry or taking the patient to a medical appointment. Even people who live far away can help with some things, like making phone calls.”
- Put self-care on your to-do list. Make time to take a walk or savor a cup of coffee. Use a stress-reducing technique such as meditation or yoga. Try to exercise regularly, even if you can only do 10 minutes at a time.
- Learn about your loved one’s health condition and the health care system. “Understand your insurance and benefits,” she says. “Stay up to date with the latest treatments. The more you know about these things, the better advocate you can be.”
Support services for caregivers
The person you are caring for may have access to clinical social workers through their providers.
For example, in addition to Newberry’s UCI Health neurology team, there also are social workers who are part of the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, the H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center, the palliative care department and some primary care clinics.
“As a social worker, I give resources based on the diagnosis of the patient and the needs of the caregiver,” she says. “For example, when referring to caregiver support groups, I’ll look at the caregiver’s age or stage of life in addition to the patient’s diagnosis. Whenever possible, I like to give a warm handoff to an organization or agency.”
She also informs patients and their caregivers about such local resources as:
- Adult day centers
- Respite care options
- Family caregiver resource centers
- Home health services
- Social service agencies
'A big undertaking'
Most important, Newbury says, it to cultivate patience, with yourself and others.
“Caring for another person is a big undertaking,” she says. “Have patience with the whole process: That means having patience with yourself, with the person you’re caring for, with healthcare providers and with insurance agencies.
“If you can do that, you can avoid a lot of frustration and focus on what’s most important.”