Prioritizing Self-Care

Caregivers: Learn to Conquer Stress and Burnout

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

It’s a demanding job that comes with no pay and no benefits. Most workers average 24 hours per week, but some put in more than 40. Half of these workers say they had no other alternative but to take on the responsibility themselves.

The job is “caregiver,” a position more than 43 million Americans accept, often in addition to a full-time job and their own home and family duties. Caregivers provide assistance for a parent, spouse, partner, child, friend or neighbor when that individual becomes unable to care for themselves independently.

According to Jane Felczak, MSN, R.N., CPPS, who helps lead a caregiver support program at Henry Ford Health System, “With so much to do and little time for themselves, caregivers frequently suffer from stress and burnout.”

Symptoms of Stress and Burnout
How do you know if your stress level is starting to become a problem or may be leading to burnout? Look for some of these common signs:

  • Loss of interest in other activities
  • Anxiety, withdrawal or depression
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Feeling like you have to ‘do it all’ and can never take a break
  • Trying to be everything to everyone
  • Feeling like your work is not recognized or meaningful

How to Head-Off Caregiver Burnout
If you spot these signs, Felczak recommends caring for yourself with one or more of these strategies:

  • Hydrate before you caffeinate in the morning, and drink water throughout the day.
  • Take 10-minute, deep breathing “mental vacations” at least once a day.
  • Spend time outside.
  • Limit your caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake.
  • Eat food, not food products, and focus on eating more fresh vegetables.
  • Include these stress-relieving foods in your diet: Leafy green vegetables, turkey, salmon, blueberries, pistachios, dark chocolate, and pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds.
  • Ask family and friends for help, and hire help when possible: a handyman, house cleaner, or transportation service.
  • When you give someone else a responsibility, let them handle it.
  • When you are away – stay away.
  • Join a support group.

Felczak also suggests working on your own emotional well-being to avoid burnout.

“Be aware of becoming more ‘mindful’ and being present in the moment. Notice things without judging, and don’t judge your own thoughts and feelings. Whenever possible, perform a random act of kindness. Research on many different strategies has shown it produces the single-most reliable momentary increase in feelings of well-being,” says Felczak.

Check out the FREE Solutions for Family Caregivers Expo, Saturday, Oct. 14, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Diamond Ballroom at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, where Jane Felczak will present a session on “Caring for the Caregiver: Creating Personal Resilience.”

Jane Felczak, MSN, R.N., CPPS, manages patient safety and clinical quality projects at Henry Ford Health System, as well as helping to the lead the Henry Ford CARE Program for caregivers. Learn more at henryford.com/familycaregivers or by calling (313) 874-4838.

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