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    Feeling burned out? You’re not alone.

    At 62, Wendy* is burning out. Not yet retired, she pulls daily double duty between a full-time office manager job, and the evolving needs of her octogenarian parents. Even so, it’s not the exhaustion that gets her down, but rather: the guilt.
    By Home Care Assistance - November 1, 2021

    Home Care Assistance Montreal is the only home care solution offering an innovative, science-based approach to aging. We elevate the standard of care for seniors everywhere. In “Care Diaries,” we feature heartfelt stories from Canadians telling their current life stories about the reality of caring for a loved one.

    “I feel like I’m always trying to be in two or three places at the same time,” she explains. “On the one hand, because of the pandemic I’m still working full-time at home so I have some additional flexibility. On the other hand, that’s made my parents almost more reliant on me, because I’m even more accessible at all hours of the day or night.”

    The constant motion of her days often leaves Wendy struggling to feel like she’s doing anything well. It’s not uncommon for her to emerge from the home office at lunch only to find her father’s left a pot boiling away for hours on the stove, or her mother has forgotten to turn a faucet off in the powder room. These tiny concerns keep her up at night. Balancing the little things with the bigger challenges (making medical appointments, ensuring medication is taken, helping with tech issues around the house) compounds those concerns.

    “It feels like there is an endless list of things to worry about. When I’m not 100% focused on supporting them, I feel terrible. But at the same time, I just don’t know how to stretch myself any further between making sure they’re adequately cared for, and keeping the rest of my work-life balance going, too,” says Wendy. 

    She’s not alone in those feelings. Family members who step into the role of caregiving are known to fall victim to a host of different symptoms tied to caregiver burnout. From anxiety, depression and excessive fatigue to stress, weight fluctuations and—yes, guilt—the impacts can be dramatic. In 2018, almost 25% of Canadian seniors said they were providing care for other family members. One-third of them considered their caregiving responsibilities to be stressful. Although healthcare providers often reinforce the need for family caregivers to prioritize their own wellness, that’s often easier said than done. 

    In Wendy’s case, small changes are making an incremental impact. In recent months, she’s become deliberate about taking lunch breaks away from the house. A quick drive or a walk around the block give her space to centre herself at mid-day, between the ebb and flow of work responsibilities and family caregiving. It helps, she says. But that alone is not enough. ”I think when you’ve been taking care of family for a number of years, you need more intentional breaks to really make an impact. That’s something I’m trying to focus on now.” 

    What could that look like for caregivers like Wendy? She’s now looking into key ways to:

    1. Get serious about respite care. Many caregivers can’t imagine actually stepping away from their home care responsibilities, but taking a meaningful break is extremely important. Whether that means hiring in a respite care team for a day or even a few days, or looking into day centres as pandemic guidelines allow: breaks matter. Explore what’s available in your neighbourhood to ensure you’re getting enough breathing room to actually breathe. 

    2. Connect with others who are in the same boat. Taking time to talk about how stressed and tired you feel may sound counterintuitive. Yet, it can help. At a minimum, you may pick up best practices and strategies to test out at home, or learn about local resources you and your loved one could tap into. What’s more, though, is you may find yourself connecting with a new friend, which can ease the feeling of loneliness that often accompanies such intense caregiving. Seek out support groups online to get a sense of where family caregivers may be meeting up in your community.

    3. Start setting more realistic goals. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Resetting the vibe within your home or with your loved one can reduce everyone’s stress level. Maybe that means more clearly delineating work hours from caregiving hours, when possible. Perhaps that looks like a clear schedule on the fridge, outlining schedules and appointments, to encourage shared ownership of the calendar. Think about what parts of the day represent your greatest struggle, and then focus your attention on dialling down those specific pain points, one at a time. 

    Closing thoughts

    Family caregiving often means balancing a seemingly endless (and somewhat invisible) world of responsibilities against work, wellbeing and other priorities. Putting yourself back on the to do list is hugely important. After all, you can’t take care of anyone else without first looking after yourself.  

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