How Caregivers Can Avoid Burnout
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How Caregivers Can Avoid BurnoutEffective Ways To Support Caregivers
Yes. Friends don’t let friends burn out….anymore than Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk. How did that slogan get viral so fast….even before Twitter and Facebook? Somehow, those courageous and determined women of MADD hit a nerve; everyone knew it was true. Everyone of us knew how we did indeed allow friends of ours to endanger themselves and countless others – leaving a social gathering – if not drunk, then not in the kind of condition we’d entrust them to make good judgments. If we seriously thought about it, every wedding reception would include a chartered bus ride home. But somehow, that hasn’t become customary yet.
And, in every town and city, there’s the one tragic story that just tears everybody apart. A life wasted. Lives terribly impacted. A child without a father. A young man without his life partner. Someone bound to a wheelchair for the rest of their life.
So now, however we honor it or not by our own behavior, we generally agree that letting friends drive drunk is a pretty bad idea. Enabling that kind of reckless endangerment is not something we consciously want to do. Let me offer a quick pivot from drunk drivers to another group of people who are also at risk – to themselves and to those they care about. (No, I’m not talking about impaired airline pilots or politicians with sexual addictions – though they also deserve some kind of compassion and help.) It’s family caregivers – those 66 million people in the US and countless more worldwide.
Right now we are all either one of these caregivers or we know several people who are. For our parents, children, siblings, life partners, friends, fellow congregation or spiritual community members, etc. The statistics of the impacts of caregiving on caregiver well-being, relationships, career, finances are frightening. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “A conservative estimate reports that 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from depression, twice the rate of the general population. Of clients of California’s Caregiver Resource Centers, nearly 60 percent show clinical signs of depression.”
To one degree or another, every caregiver is at risk of burning out, especially those who believe that they have to do it alone. Think about the predominant role model that caregivers have: dedicated, self-sacrificing, denying their own needs in the process. They are admired for acting that way. The problem with that approach is that it simply doesn’t work. It’s not sustainable. It’s the road to burnout. There’s a paradox here. Caregivers who are stressed out and overwhelmed are often not receptive to even the kindest offers of help.They’re just too wound up to receive it. So, I offer this Call to Arms….Friends Against Caregiver Burnout (FACG – not so sexy a name - please save us with a better name!). Our “arms” are not raised in anger; rather they are reaching out to help those caregivers, who in turn, reach out and let the love flow towards them. No caregiver on their way toward burnout is unknown to the people around them. Every such caregiver has some ongoing contact with other people who care about them.
Friends can make a difference. Friends MUST make the difference. I’m calling you forth to:
1. Recognize caregivers who need help
2. Step in and connect with them
3. Help them to recognize they need help and to assess the help they need
4. Help them to create a way to get that help
5. Be willing to make mistakes
6. Continually forgive yourself and them for things that come up along the way
It’s not easy to do this. You may be afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. Or of becoming the target of your friend’s pent-up anger. Or of getting more involved than you can afford to. Or you simply don’t know what to do. I’ll be offering some tips on how to get past some of these concerns on my blog. You may also want to bring them a copy of Coaching For Caregivers, and sit by their side, leaf through it together, and see what might resonate for them. Inspired by my gurus, Nike and Smokey the Bear, I simply say, Just Do It! The life you save may be someone you truly care about.