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How to avoid career burnout and dropping care.

How To Avoid Carer Burnout (Without Dropping Care)

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How To Avoid Carer Burnout

Sometimes in life we find ourselves in a caregiving role.

Maybe we chose it. For example, by becoming a professional carer, or even just by being a parent.

Oftentimes we didn’t. Sometimes because our own parents now need care from us, or because a partner becomes disabled.

Philosophical note: an argument could be made for that latter also having been a pre-emptive choice; we probably at some point said words to the effect of “in sickness and in health”, hopefully with free will, and hopefully meant it. And of course, sometimes we enter into a relationship with someone who is already disabled.

But, we are not a philosophy publication, and will henceforth keep to the practicalities.

First: are you the right person?

Sometimes, a caregiving role might fall upon you unasked-for, and it’s worth considering whether you are really up for it. Are you in a position to be that caregiver? Do you want to be that caregiver?

It may be that you do, and would actively fight off anyone or anything that tried to stop you. If so, great, now you only need to make sure that you are actually in a position to provide the care in question.

It may be that you do want to, but your circumstances don’t allow you to do as good a job of it as you’d like, or it means you have to drop other responsibilities, or you need extra help. We’ll cover these things later.

It may be that you don’t want to, but you feel obliged, or “have to”. If that’s the case, it will be better for everyone if you acknowledge that, and find someone else to do it. Nobody wants to feel a burden, and nobody wants someone providing care to be resentful of that. The result of such is two people being miserable; that’s not good for anyone. Better to give the job to someone who actually wants to (a professional, if necessary).

So, be honest (first with yourself, then with whoever may be necessary) about your own preferences and situation, and take steps to ensure you’re only in a caregiving role that you have the means and the will to provide.

Second: are you out of your depth?

Some people have had a life that’s prepared them for being a carer. Maybe they worked in the caring profession, maybe they have always been the family caregiver for one reason or another.

Yet, even if that describes you… Sometimes someone’s care needs may be beyond your abilities. After all, not all care needs are equal, and someone’s condition can (and more often than not, will) deteriorate.

So, learn. Learn about the person’s condition(s), medications, medical equipment, etc. If you can, take courses and such. The more you invest in your own development in this regard, the more easily you will handle the care, and the less it will take out of you.

And, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Maybe the person knows their condition better than you, and certainly there’s a good chance they know their care needs best. And certainly, there are always professionals that can be contacted to ask for advice.

Sometimes, a team effort may be required, and there’s no shame in that either. Whether it means enlisting help from family/friends or professionals, sometimes “many hands make light work”.

Check out: Caregiver Action Network: Organizations Near Me

👆 A very good resource-hub for help, advice, & community👆

Third: put your own oxygen mask on first

Like the advice to put on one’s own oxygen mask first before helping others (in the event of a cabin depressurization in an airplane), the rationale is the same here. You can’t help others if you are running on empty yourself.

As a carer, sometimes you may have to put someone else’s needs above yours, both in general and in the moment. But, you do have needs too, and cannot neglect them (for long).

One sleepless night looking after someone else is… a small sacrifice for a loved one, perhaps. But several in a row starts to become unsustainable.

Sometimes it will be necessary to do the best you can, and accept that you cannot do everything all the time.

There’s a saying amongst engineers that applies here too: “if you don’t schedule time for maintenance, your equipment will schedule it for you”.

In other words: if you don’t give your body rest, your body will break down and oblige you to rest. Please be aware this goes for mental effort too; your brain is just another organ.

So, plan ahead, schedule breaks, find someone to take over, set up your cared-for-person with the resources to care for themself as well as possible (do this anyway, of course—independence is generally good so far as it’s possible), and make the time/effort to get you what you need for you. Sleep, distraction, a change of scenery, whatever it may be.

Lastly: what if it’s you?

If you’re reading this and you’re the person who has the higher care needs, then firstly:all strength to you. You have the hardest job here; let’s not forget that.

About that independence: well-intentioned people may forget that, so don’t be afraid to remind them when “I would prefer to do that myself”. Maintaining independence is generally good for the health, even if sometimes it is more work for all concerned than someone else doing it for you. The goal, after all, is your wellbeing, so this shouldn’t be cast aside lightly.

On the flipside: you don’t have to be strong all the time; nobody should.

Being disabled can also be quite isolating (this is probably not a revelation to you), so if you can find community with other people with the same or similar condition(s), even if it’s just online, that can go a very, very long way to making things easier. Both practically, in terms of sharing tips, and psychologically, in terms of just not feeling alone.

See also: How To Beat Loneliness & Isolation

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