Carolyn Hax: Overworked, Burnt-out Caregiver Looks for Ways to Be Kind Again | Caregiver Action Network

Carolyn Hax: Overworked, Burnt-out Caregiver Looks for Ways to Be Kind Again

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By Carolyn Hax

Advice columnist

January 11, 2022 at 12:00 a.m. EST

Dear Carolyn: In addition to my full-time job, which I am very grateful for, I am also one of the caretakers of a relative. We all live together, with 3 to 4 people in the house at any given time, for financial and medical reasons. The relative in question has had some health scares and appears to be nearing the end.

The problem is that I am burned out and it has turned me into a nasty person. I am short with my relative, I lack patience and am generally not nice to be around. I suspect part of this is resentment. I work from home, so I am around her 24/7, but the other caregivers go into the office, and one even took a socially distanced vacation. I feel as if I get no breaks, but it's still not kind of me to take it out on her.

I know I will regret my behavior if she really is nearing the end, and I don’t want her to feel unwelcome or uncared for in her final weeks. How do I snap out of my selfishness and be kinder and more patient?

— Caretaker

Caretaker: I am sorry you have to go through this.

Please, please, when one of the other caregivers is there, leave the house. Somehow. Give yourself a break. Even if you can't technically spare the time from work, a 15-minute walk outside can help you do the next hour's work in only 30 minutes. The math for productivity isn't just 2 + 2 = 4.

If that's impossible or impractical for whatever reason, then build breaks into your day internally. I'm thinking meditation, mainly — it's something you can do any time and its mental health benefits are well documented. Even if you can get outside for breaks, meditation is worth adding to your day anyway. Stretching helps, too.

And laughing! Cartoons, videos, favorite shows are there for you when you can clear 15 or 25 minutes.

You're learning the hard way the truth of the concept of putting on your oxygen mask first before you help anyone else.

Finally, there's finality: You suspect she's near the end, which may help you grasp the permanence of the “after.” This, the “before,” is a moment. So you can ask yourself, “Do I have a moment in me?” The answer may be “yes” more often just for your framing it this way, even when it still feels as hard.

Readers' suggestions for respite:

· You might also reach out to the local hospice organization to see if they offer caretaker support services.

· When you’re feeling calm, tell your relative: “I’m not dealing with my stress very well, and I feel like I’m taking that out on you. You don’t deserve that. I don’t want you to feel uncared for.”

· Please have a meeting with others in the house. Set up times when people are “on- and off-duty.” Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you should be the default caregiver 24 hours a day.

· Is your Agency on Aging involved? Does this relative have a caseworker? Please check your relative’s insurance and what services they might offer.

· A therapist helped me to understand that I (like everyone) have limitations in terms of stress, and had to learn new skills. Some things that worked: fresh air, in the woods, etc., unplugging from people; a drive with LOUD music; exercise, if only a few minutes to break a sweat; meditation, absolutely; a few minutes for myself during the day, small timeouts; a sympathetic ear. Frankly, therapists are as good as it gets.

· The Caregiver Action Network is a great resource. Hang in there!