Content provided by Parkway Cancer Centre

Caring for burnt-out caregivers

Caring for someone with cancer can be overwhelming at times. Caregivers need to be mindful of their own well-being so that they can be consistent, caring and efficient caregivers.

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What is caregiver burn-out?

Caregiver burn-out is a combination of physical, emotional, and mental fatigue.

A burnt-out caregiver may also experience a significant change in attitude – from positive and caring, to negative and indifferent. Some causes of burn-out include:

  • Sidelining your personal physical, emotional and spiritual health.
  • Allowing your role as caregiver to supersede your identity and other responsibilities. For example, parents might be so consumed with nursing a sick child and neglect spending adequate time with each other.
  • Having unrealistic expectations of your sacrifices, for example, hoping that your involvement or sacrifice will lead to a positive outcome on the health of the patient.

Many caregivers are unable to identify a burn-out and eventually fall ill themselves. In severe cases, they may lose the ability to function effectively. The following are some key symptoms (please refer to www.canhope.org for a more comprehensive list):

  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Irritability/mood swings/temper tantrums
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Poor concentration, easily distracted
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Withdrawing from hobbies and activities that were previously enjoyable

Bust the burn-out

When you experience burn-out, both you and the person whom you are caring for suffer. Here are some self-care strategies:

Get organised

Keeping track of the many responsibilities of caregiving can be daunting. Create ‘To-do lists’ to keep your priorities in order. Staying organised can also maximise quality time spent with your loved ones.

Rotate caregiving duties

It’s a great idea to engage someone else to be the secondary caregiver. You can rotate responsibilities as this will help to reduce over-dependency and burn-out. This also allows the patient to bond with another person and feel loved and well-supported.

Make time for self-care

As you organise your lists and manage your schedule, do include a portion of time for self-care. Self-care is crucial for you to recharge, declutter your mind and to release any physical tensions developed over time during caregiving.

Self-care can be anything from spending time with friends or catching up on reading. Finding time for activities that you enjoy will help you relax and stay grounded. This aids in managing feelings of helplessness, emptiness and frustrations especially when your energy level is low.

Exercise

Exercise not only improves your physical health, it also helps to combat depression and improve memory. During exercise, your body releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin; these feel-good chemicals can improve your moods and make you feel better about yourself. In addition, after your workouts, be sure to cool down, relaxing your muscles and easing any tensions or strains.

Connect with other caregivers

Get to know other caregivers and form a social support network to share tips and provide mutual encouragement. You can also participate in caregiving workshops to learn new skills, or attend psycho-educational programmes to develop emotion-coping techniques and resilience.  

For more information on caregiving and support for caregivers, please visit CanHOPE’s website at www.canhope.org.


Source: CanHOPE. CanHOPE is a non-profit cancer counselling and support service provided by Parkway Cancer Centre.

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