It only took one diagnosis for my life to be completely altered. The first time I heard that my father was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy I knew immediately that everything else was going to be put on hold so that I could be there for him.

How to Be an Effective CaregiverI packed up my bags and moved back into my childhood bedroom at age 30. I tried my best to juggle a career with the need to be on-call, constantly stepping outside of the office to answer a phone call on the first ring just in case there was an emergency or shift in my father’s condition. Being a caregiver was not a role I could prepare for. I had to jump right in.

The circumstances of caregivers vary, but regardless of your situation, being a caregiver is no easy task. Answering 24/7 demands can easily take you away from the things you enjoy. When I became a caregiver, I stopped making the effort to make plans with friends and struggled to take time to take care of myself.  While these problems are not always easy to discuss, they are part of the reality of caregiving and it is time to start the conversation about the more difficult aspects of caregiving and caregiver burnout.

Identifying Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout can happen to anyone who cares for another person on a daily basis. When I experienced burnout, I had constant feelings of anxiety, guilt, irritability, and hopelessness. To address caregiver burnout you have to know the symptoms. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Becoming increasingly withdrawn from social situations, friends, or other family members
  • Experiencing changes in your sleeping or eating patterns
  • Feeling sick more often
  • Relying on alcohol or other substances to cope with feelings
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or others

How to Avoid Burnout and Remain an Effective Caregiver

The first step in coping with burnout and remaining an effective caregiver is to realize that your feelings are normal. This was the hardest thing for me. As a caregiver, I always felt guilty for wanting to do other things or take a day off. I didn’t know that my thoughts were valid.

It is important to understand that just because you’re experiencing burnout doesn’t mean that you are failing in your role as a caregiver. This was the biggest takeaway I had throughout my journey of taking care of my father.

Here are some tips that I have learned over the years to help avoid or address caregiver burnout:

  • Seek help
    • Find a friend, family member, or trusted professional who you can discuss your feelings with openly and honestly. Talking to friends was a great way for me to feel like I had support and didn’t have to take on everything myself.
  • Take care of yourself
    • Make sleeping right, eating a healthy diet, daily exercise, and regular doctor visits a priority and take time each day to do something enjoyable for yourself. For me, just grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend or relaxing with a good book was a great way to make time for myself.
  • Be realistic about the course of your loved one’s condition
    • It is so hard sometimes to be realistic about the condition of someone you love. It was really difficult for me to see my father struggle with his illness but having meaningful conversations with my family and planning his needs in advance really helped me come to terms with everything.
    • I suggest working with health professionals and your family to address your loved one’s future needs, doing this in advance can alleviate much of the stress and potential family discord that can arise as your loved one’s condition worsens.
  • Create a plan
    • When it comes to caregiving, one thing I have learned is that preparation is key.  I believe that every caregiver should create a plan to help make big decisions and prioritize daily goals. Just be willing to reevaluate and adjust the plan if necessary.

What Being a Caregiver Really Means

Although being a caregiver can be challenging, it can also be extremely rewarding. As a caregiver, I was given the opportunity to spend more time with my father and develop a meaningful relationship with him that was far stronger than the one we had before he was diagnosed with his illness.

I will carry on the memories we made during the two years I was his caregiver for the rest of my life. In my role as a caregiver, I have grown exponentially as a person and developed the strength to take on any situation. Caregivers are real-life superheroes, so take time to recognize that and give yourself permission to be less than perfect.

If you are doing the best you can that is good enough. The only way to care for others is to take care of yourself first.

–by Christian Worstell

How to Be an Effective Caregiver

Christian Worstell is a health and lifestyle writer living in Raleigh, NC.