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Caring for your loved one can be very rewarding, but it can also be challenging. As a caregiver, you may have found yourself working harder than ever during the pandemic, with little time for yourself or to even reflect on how you’re coping.
 
It’s easy to get caught up in giving all your attention to the one you care for, forgetting to take care of yourself too. If this continues for too long, it can quickly lead to caregiver burnout. It hits you when you least expect it – when you’re deeply involved in your caregiving role.
 
Carer burnout, also known as carer fatigue, is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion. Feeling burnt out, you’ll find it harder to care for your loved one, whether that’s an elderly parent, another family member or a friend. And to make matters worse, he or she can often sense that you’re tired, irritated or stressed. 
 
That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself as well as your friend or relative, as hard as that can sometimes feel. Below we’ve outlined the main warning signs of carer fatigue, with some simple tips to help you avoid burning out.

Warning signs of burnout

It’s important to take action as soon as you spot any of these warning signs:
 
  • You’ve lost a lot of energy 
  • You feel tired all day, even after a good night's sleep 
  • You’ve started avoiding your family and friends
  • You’re losing interest in activities you used to enjoy (sports or hobbies)
  • You neglect your own needs
  • You have trouble relaxing
  • Your life revolves around caregiving but you no longer find it fulfilling
  • You feel sad and hopeless, nervous or angry
  • You’ve lost or gained weight for no apparent reason
  • You fall sick more often than normal 
  • You’re impatient and irritable towards the person you’re caring for
  • You feel like hurting yourself or the person you’re caring for
Never ignore these signs. Taking preventive action early will allow you to recharge and regain your strength.

How to avoid burnout

Here are 3 simple tips that can help you avoid and overcome caregiver burnout:

1. Sharing the caring

Share your feelings with a friend, family member or neighbour, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk about the good and the bad moments of your experience as a caregiver, and discuss how they might be able to help and support you. Even if you aren’t able to meet up in person, make the most of modern technology and use FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp and social media to stay in touch with those that you can rely on. 

To make sharing responsibilities easier, and to help you give the best care as a family, download the TENA Family SmartCare App. It’s a free tool that makes caring easier by connecting your fellow family carers and keeping track of all the important things.

If you need a little extra help and advice, look for local support groups where you can connect with other carers, as well as experts and professionals. You can share and learn from one another, and find meaningful support from others in a similar situation.

2. Be kind to yourself

Being a carer can be tough, and there are bound to be times when you feel like you’re really struggling. Try not to be too hard on yourself when you feel frustrated, exhausted or down, and remember that you’re doing the best you can. 

3. Try to stay in good health

On an aeroplane, you’re advised to put your own oxygen mask on before helping those around you, because if you run out of oxygen, you won’t be able to help anyone else. Looking after yourself will help you to provide better care for your loved one. 

Incorporate healthy habits into your daily life, such as keeping fit, eating well and getting enough sleep. This will help you to stay energised and will keep your spirits up. Take time to exercise and do physical activities, whether that’s going for a walk, a run, a swim, or practising some yoga. 

‘Me time’ is really important for our emotional and mental health, so as well as exercising, try to make time to do something for you, whether that’s calling a friend, reading a book or practising a hobby. Smile with people, laugh with them, and do things you enjoy. Humour is a great way to deal with stress and moments of depression.

How to cope if you do burn out

If you’re already feeling the effects of carer burnout, then there are places you can turn to for help.
 
  • Consider respite care. There are lots of respite care options, from getting a volunteer to sit with your loved one for a few hours, to a short stay in a care home so you can go on holiday. 
  • Join a support group. A problem shared is a problem halved, and a caregiver support group is a great way to connect with people who understand what you’re going through.
  • Seek medical attention. If you start to feel overwhelmingly stressed or depressed, speak to your doctor, who will be able to recommend the best way to treat this. 
If you’re feeling burnt out, don’t suffer in silence. Find a full list of organisations that provide assistance to caregivers.

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