How Setting Boundaries Can Help You Avoid Caregiver Burnout

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By Elaine McLeod

SanchezWhen loved ones have a medical emergency, it is normal and necessary to push your own needs aside in order to take care of them. However, once the crisis is over, in order to avoid caregiver burnout, it will be necessary for you to find ways to take care of yourself.

My mother established a firm boundary with my dad a few months after he suffered his first stroke. In a letter she wrote to me, she said, “The one place where I don’t give in to Quentin is when I want to sit up and read at night. He never liked me doing that when he was well. Now he says that the light being on in the living room and the noise of the turning pages is keeping him awake. Last night I pointed out that he didn’t have any trouble sleeping in the morning when I’m working. The TV can be on. The dishwasher can be running. The phone can be ringing, people can be coming and going, and he can sleep like he’s dead. So I told him if he can’t sleep at night while I’m reading, he will just have to stay awake.”

Reading books and writing letters helped my mother cope with her isolation, loneliness, and stress. After she “explained” things, it didn’t take long for Dad to understand and accept that once she tucked him in and kissed him goodnight, he was not to bother her.

Three Steps To Establishing Boundaries

  1. Accept that self-care is not selfish. Maintaining your own physical and emotional health will help you avoid caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue.
  2. Be consistent and firm. Determine the best time of day to do something you enjoy, then do it every day. Make sure everyone knows that this is your time, and be very clear that you do not want to be disturbed.
  3. Learn how to say, “No.” When someone asks you to do something that you don’t want to do, don’t apologize or make excuses. Simply say, “No, I won’t be able to do that,” or “No, I can’t do that” or “No, that doesn’t work for me.”

Caring for yourself and setting boundaries isn’t unkind. It will help reduce your stress and feelings of anger and resentment––which could end up being one of the most generous things you will ever do for your care receiver.

About the author:

Elaine K Sanchez is the author of the unflinchingly honest and surprisingly funny book, Letters from Madelyn, Chronicles of a Caregiver is available on Amazon) She is the co-founder of CaregiverHelp.com, an online caregiver support program, and she frequently speaks at caregiving, eldercare and healthcare conferences across the US. Contact her directly at elaine@eksanchez.com.

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