Caregiver fatigue is sometimes a difficult subject to discuss. This is especially true for family caregivers, who are taking care of a parent, a spouse, a sibling, or a child. Most family caregivers are dealing with a patient who they care about. This is someone that they love and respect. In the case of parents or spouses, the patient is often someone who has done a great deal for the caregiver in the past. So when you love someone, and they have done a lot for you, it can be difficult to admit to caregiver fatigue.
All Caregivers Experience Fatigue
Anyone who has been acting as a caregiver, especially a primary or live-in caregiver, for more than a few days, will admit that caregiving is a challenging and draining job. If your loved one needs high levels of help with activities of daily living, then caregiving can involve a lot of physical work. You may be lifting, bathing, and cleaning up toileting problems, on top of the daily work of keeping a house running. Even if your loved one is fairly independent, there is a level of awareness that caregivers need. Some part of a caregiver is always listening for problems and waiting to spring into action. Both of these aspects of caregiving, the physical work and the emotional alertness, require a continual output of energy from caregivers. In addition, many caregivers are working, raising children, and participating in other daily life roles. The energy output for caregiving, combined with the rest of your responsibilities, can lead to a deep fatigue.
Many Caregivers Struggle to Acknowledge Fatigue
While it is easy to see why caregiving is difficult, it seems tough for caregivers to acknowledge their own fatigue. I believe that the struggle to notice fatigue is caused by multiple factors:
- Many caregivers see their own work as voluntary, while the illness that their loved one faces is not. This leaves them unsure about their “right” to experience fatigue in an activity that they “chose” to do.
- Many caregivers contrast their own difficulties with the challenges faced by their loved ones, and they feel guilty that they’re “complaining” about fatigue.
- Many caregivers feel isolated in their caregiving, and are not sure where they would get relief even if they did acknowledge fatigue.
- Caregivers talk about not wanting to add to the burden of a sick loved one by admitting that caregiving is difficult.
The predominant theme I have heard from caregivers when they are in my office is a mix of guilt (because they are feeling caregiver fatigue when a loved one is ill) and isolation (a sense that there is no one to step in and assist them).
How to Avoid Caregiver Fatigue
If you have read through the first few sections of this article and found yourself nodding your head, or felt a sense of recognition, then this section is incredibly important for you. Many caregivers I have spoken with look incredulous when I bring up self-care. They have just told me how complicated and time-stressed their lives are. Then I ask them to fit another activity into their lives: time for themselves. I’ll ask you, as I ask my clients, to hang in here with me. I’m not saying that you need to go to the gym daily, or find an hour-long yoga class. Both of those would be great choices, but I recognize that time is one of the most precious commodities that a caregiver has. And right this minute, you may not be sure how to carve out an hour or two for yourself even once, let alone on a regular basis.
I am asking you to pause and recognize that keeping yourself healthy is a huge piece of how you will continue to be available to your loved one as the caregiver they need. Keeping yourself healthy and your sense of self nourished will allow you to be a more present and engaged caregiver. Keeping yourself healthy will mean that you have a smile to share along with that meal. It will help keep the frustration that can be part of caregiving from turning into resentment for a person you love.
Self-care can be done in small bites. In fact, you can do some while you finish reading this article.
- Take a few deep, full breaths as you continue to read. Get the oxygen flowing in your whole body.
- If caregiving has disrupted your exercise routine, google “chair exercise.” Maybe you and your loved one can do some together.
- Choose foods that are bright and delicious.
- Spend 10 minutes a day doing the crossword, reading a book, or otherwise participating in an activity that you enjoy.
- If you want to go big, ask a friend or family member to sub in for you as temporary caregiver while you catch a movie, walk in the park, or have a meal out.
- The next step would be to build in regular breaks for yourself, when you are officially “off-duty” as caregiver.
These small activities will go a long way towards pushing back some of the fatigue that comes with caregiving. If you still notice that you feel drained, frustrated, or resentful, please consider reaching out to a support group or seeking therapy to deepen your support.