for the Caregiver
Exhaustion is more than just being tired.
It's being tired for weeks, being tired for months.
The people around you can't help but notice
if you've become exhausted, or if you're rapidly—and steadily—approaching
exhaustion. It's not unusual for them to comment on it.
The typical response from the exhausted
caregiver is to deny it. Why? Because if you admit the problem, you
may be expected to somehow change your behavior. To do something about
it. Change seems impossible. And you don't want to do anything that
would jeopardize your role as caregiver. You really want to continue
to be there for Mom or Dad.
At the same time, exhaustion can bring on a
sense of helplessness. A sense of hopelessness. The seemingly awful
thought that "I wish all this were over."
The symptoms of exhaustion aren't hard to
spot. They would include:
● a feeling of extreme fatigue (even
when you do get the chance to sleep, it isn't a restful sleep);
● becoming more emotional, for example,
you get angry more quickly and are less patient which increases the
risk of abuse and you feel a deep sadness which may lead to
● arguing more with your spouse, your
children, your siblings, even with your parent;
● a change in your eating habits
(eating all the time or not eating enough);
● a haggard appearance;
● showing poor judgment;
● having trouble remembering things;
● constantly feeling overloaded and
● feeling in danger of
"crashing," having a fear of breaking down and then not
being able to care for your parent, or yourself.
What can you do, especially at a time when
you feel you're already doing way too much? These are some
● Take a small step back and realize
being exhausted isn't good for you personally or for you as a
caregiver. An exhausted caregiver can't be a good caregiver. Also,
your parent may be able to see your exhaustion and worry about what he
or she is doing to you.
● Give yourself a tiny break. A minute
or two. Go into the bathroom, shut the door and wash your face with
cool water. Or walk out onto the porch by yourself and take a few deep
breaths. Taking a day off may seem impossible, but you can take a
one-minute break. And you can build on that. More breaks, longer
breaks. It takes time to go from exhausted to well. Start planning
what you'll do. Something to look forward to. Take ten minutes while
Dad is watching the news; take fifteen while Mom is napping.
● Get help. If you have a sibling who
lives a distance, this would be a good time to ask him or her to come
back home for a week or two and give you a break. Not that you would
go away on a vacation, just be able to take some time off for your
front-line caregiver role. (This is assuming your parent isn't
critically ill, just heavily dependent on you. This is the time to
take a break. You'll want to be with Mom or Dad when his or her
condition does become critical.)
● Also, look into respite care. Even a
few hours once a week can help a lot.
● Try to get some exercise. A daily
walk around the block will make a difference.
● Remember, it's better—and easier—to
prevent exhaustion than to reach that point and have to come back from
it. You're not being selfish if you take breaks, get some exercise,
eat right, get your sleep, and ask for help.
● Consider joining a caregivers'
support group. Many caregivers find it extremely beneficial. In some
cases care for your parent is offered while you attend the group.
● Admit the best way to be a good
caregiver, to be good to your parent, is to be good to yourself. If
you continue to take care of yourself, you can continue to provide the
first-rate, loving, compassionate care you want your parent to have.
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