As a caregiver, you are in the midst of an incredible commendable, but difficult, job—you know you're doing the right thing and that mom needs you, but that doesn't provide much comfort when caregiver burnout hits. As you care for mom, it's important that you don’t lose your sense of self. You can't be strong and capable for her if you're not operating on all four cylinders yourself.
As you go through the daily routine of doling out medicine, running errands, cleaning and checking in on your mom, here are three ways to keep stress to a minimum and preserve your peace of mind.
1. Set a Good Example
If you find it hard to remember to take care of yourself as you're living the busy schedule odf a caregiver, frame it as setting a good example. You're sending a mixed message when you keep reminding Mom to eat well, get a little exercise every day, and go to bed at a decent hour while you struggle through on six hours of sleep, haven’t gone to the gym in months, and keep skipping breakfast.
Take the time to sit and eat breakfast with your mother to get the fuel that you need. Develop an exercise routing you can do together—laps at the mall, bowling, gardening. Establish a bedtime and morning routine with her, even if it's as simple as a glass of milk together at night and reading the newspaper in the morning.
2. Make Sure You Socialize
Caregiver burnout comes that much faster when you don't socialize with anyone outside of your mother's doctors. The Mayo Clinic recommends socialization as a key technique for stress relief in caregivers.
Look into respite care services or contact another family member who can take on responsibilities so that you can carve out a few hours each week to spend time catching up with friends or joining a weekly group for hobbies such as knitting or bowling.
If you’re reticent to entrust Mom’s care to anyone else, think of a night out a "dry run" that will help with organization in the future. After all, you’ll need to have an alternate caregiver who can step in when you're sick or experience an emergency. There are also support groups available for caregivers with elderly parents, and these can be an invaluable resource for those struggling with caregiver burnout—ask at your mother's doctor's offices or the hospital to find a group near you.
3. Keep Your Own Medical Appointments
If you neglect your own health, it will eventually come back to haunt you. You may be excellent at providing care for Mom—organizing her medications, watching her diet, getting her to her doctor’s appointments— but if you are overdue for new glasses or ignoring that persistent heartburn, you run the risk of doing your health real damage
It can feel selfish or unnecessary to see the doctor if your parent has more pressing medical issues, but it isn't. It's vital that you take care of yourself so that you can take care of them. If Mom’s doctors aren't strictly geriatric specialists, you may even consider seeing some of the same doctors to make travel and familiarity a little easier. As an added bonus, these doctors will already be aware of potential genetic complications and can incorporate that knowledge into your own care.
Taking care of Mom isn't easy, especially when you're trying to balance her needs with your own life and struggling to find a happy medium. But taking care of yourself is an important aspect of providing care, and it shouldn't be neglected or dismissed as something to do "later" after a list of other tasks are completed. Caregiver burnout can make simple steps feel like trudging through mud, so avoid it altogether by being diligent about your self-care. Both you and Mom will be grateful for the results!