I thought burnout only happens for those with highly stressful careers or juggling too many demands from the multiple roles in life. When I look back on the period in my life as a single mother of 2 boys, a professional career and all the other demands of a Silicon Valley life, I know I experienced periods of burnout and high levels of stress. I wasn’t alone, as it seemed to be an epidemic among many of my friends and business colleagues. Fast forward to midlife—many of us are now are caring for aging or ill parents or partners. These situations create significant stress and burnout. Recently I discussed with a couple of close friends their struggles with care-giving, exhaustion, resentment and guilt surrounding these feelings.
When we’re in intense emotionally challenging situations, we may want to crawl under our covers to hide or perhaps just run away. Mostly, we feel guilty about feeling the way we feel and struggle to get through each day. We are beyond tired. We are exhausted, physically and emotionally and can’t see our way out of this impossible, never-ending situation. There’s a feeling of being incredibly alone and failing those who need us. Although now I’m not personally in the emotional free-fall of burnout, I vividly remember the feelings and how I slowly dug my way out. Here are five life-changing tips I humbly pass along to those care-givers who are doing so much for another person.
- Give yourself a break. Self-care is not a luxury, it is a necessity, especially at this time in your life. You need rest, relationships, and laughter. Ask for or hire some help, which will allow you time to yourself to do something to nurture your soul. Perhaps it’s to garden, read, get out of the house to shop, enjoy lunch with friends, or enjoy a massage or mani/pedi. Some personal pampering or an activity you enjoy for several hours will give you an emotional boost and recharge your batteries. The cost is minimal and rewards are great. Try to schedule in some personal time into your day.
- Maintain friendships and cherished relationships. It’s typical during times of stress, we shut ourselves off from others, walk stoically through our days, and miss the support, perspectives, and laughter of shared conversations with those who love us. Phone calls, lunches, coffee dates, or dinners will definitely lighten your spirit and your load. These are the people with whom you’ve walked through life, and they are waiting to share time with you.
- Take care of your own personal health. Care-giving is a marathon, generally a long journey….it is not a sprint which requires a quick burst of energy. Personal health is a three-legged stool, consisting of exercise, healthful food, and ample rest.
- Do some form of physical exercise regularly that works for you. It may be water exercises, Zumba, tai chi, yoga, tennis, or walking outdoors. Do something every day. It is amazing how you will feel afterwards.
- Be aware of your eating and drinking habits. When I am stressed out, I reach for high-carb/high-fat foods to soothe my exhausted soul. Of course, I also want to relax with the afternoon cocktail or glass or two of wine. Both of these habits worsen how I feel in the long run, my energy crashes, and they disrupt sleep and lead to weight gain, which of course only add to the stress levels. So eat healthy, regular meals, and minimize alcohol.
- Get enough rest. Good sleep is essential to good health. Arianna Huffington’s latest book, The Sleep Revolution offers up extensive research and information on the importance of sleep. A regular bedtime routine, 7-8 hours a night, elimination of electronics in the bedroom, are just a few of the wise words in her book. I highly recommend her book and sleeping more!
- Ask for help. You do NOT have to do this alone. Caregivers often feel this is their burden alone. They can easily slip into feeling like a martyr, which never ends well for anyone, especially the martyr. Hire some care-giving help if you can, household or yard services, food preparation, errands, shopping, or even a visit. Ask positive friends or family (you don’t need Negative Nelly) to call regularly to check in, visit and connect with you. Your friends and family, even those close to you, don’t know what to do or what you may need at this time. As the primary care-giver and person in charge, you need to let them know how they can help. Accusing them of not caring, not understanding how difficult it is, or not being there for you or the person being cared for, doesn’t help the situation, and creates more tension and stress for all. Consider this a team sport and you are the coach in this game. Seek ways to work together and utilize the talents of others.
- Appreciate yourself and the generous gift you are giving your loved one. I’ve noticed that even though we may seek acknowledgement, positive recognition or appreciation from others, we seldom give it to ourselves. Years ago, Oprah recommended a gratitude journal where everyday we wrote 5 things we were grateful for. I later expanded that to include what I appreciated about myself—my gifts, talents, and those accomplishments I recognized and valued. It offers us a perspective beyond the critical self comments and focus on the good in our life and in ourselves. Find something each day you’re grateful for, and something about yourself you appreciate.