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How to Avoid Caregiver Burn Out

04/13/2014 09:19 am ET | Updated Jun 13, 2014
Marcus Mok via Getty Images

By Jan Bruce

Are you caring for a sick or disabled family member? You're not alone. The numbers of family caregivers are growing every year -- two out of every five adults are caring for a loved one, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. With baby boomers swelling the ranks of the elderly, more and more of us, at younger and younger ages, are going to become caregivers, too.

The stress of caregiving is formidable, not least because you are wearing at least three huge hats at once every day:

  • The Caregiver who must learn specific, demanding skills to assure your loved one's physical and emotional health;
  • The Family Member who has a longstanding relationship with the person in need of care;
  • The Employee who must be competent and reliable at the job outside the home (the one that pays the bills).

You might also have a spouse and children who need you, too, and maybe even a hobby that you would love to do every once in a while but just can't get to. It's no wonder that caregiving leads to burnout, depression, and poor physical health.

(More on caregivers and stress.)

When you're facing this level of stress, your circle of connections needs to get both broad and deep. Friends and family simply can't provide enough support in such a complex and taxing situation.

"Friends can be a comfort and balm when you care for a love one," says psychologist Ivan Wolfson, Psy.D., an expert in helping families navigate caring for aging parents. "But they usually can't fill the role of professional, structured support. By nature of your relationship, they are more likely to agree with your perspective or tell you what they think you most want to hear. They might also project their own issues on your experience, mottling their support with their unrelated grief or resentment or fear."

Knowing When You Need Professional Help
You can use the seven essential skills of resilience, developed by meQuilibrium co-founder Andrew Shatte, Ph.D., as a way to assess your need for help. Run down the list, and think back to the last time you showed each skill. Are you able to feel empathy for your aging parent, or are you bristling with badly suppressed resentment? Are you lashing out, or are you able to express your emotions appropriately? Are you nurturing your connections outside the house at all, or are you finding yourself more and more isolated?

None of us is 100-percent resilient all the time. But when you're struggling with more than a few skills, that's a red flag that you might need someone with expertise and an outside perspective to help you take care of yourself. Professional help can take many forms: house cleaning services, home health aides, psychologists, massage therapists, a personal trainer at the gym, and support groups, to name a few.

(Read: How to take care of yourself when you're the chief caregiver.)

Self care is non-negotiable. Unchecked, the stress of caregiving will eat at your relationships, hamper your work outside the home, and make you sick. The person you're caring for deserves better -- and so do you.

Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the new digital coaching system for stress, which helps both individuals and corporations achieve measurable results in stress management and wellness.

For more by meQuilibrium, click here.

For more on stress, click here.

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