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November is National Family Caregivers Month.

As a caregiver myself to an ailing parent, we want to remind caregivers about the importance of caring for themselves.

Caregivers often devote so much time and energy to caring for a loved one that they fall victim to what is known as caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout can be defined as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that may lead to a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Sadly, many caregivers actually feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than focusing all of their energy on caring for their loved one.

Caregiver burnout is much more common than you might think. This should come as no surprise given that 40 million Americans provide unpaid care to another adult and providing adequate care requires a tremendous amount of time and energy.

Here are some steps you can take if you believe you might be suffering from caregiver burnout:

  • Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s illness and how to care for it. The more you know, the more effective you’ll be and the better you’ll feel about your efforts

  • Recognize your limits. This involves taking a more realistic approach to how much time and effort you can give your loved one. Then, be sure to express those limits to doctors and other family members

  • Learn to accept how you feel about the responsibilities of being a caregiver. Anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, grief—all these emotions and more are commonly experienced by caregivers

  • Talk to people about your feelings. Keeping your emotions bottled up doesn’t do you or the person you are caring for any good. Confiding in friends and family members can provide a sense of relief and help you overcome feelings of isolation

  • Seek support from other caregivers. Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you

  • Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one

  • Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in an extremely difficult situation

Support is available from people who understand what you are going through. You’ll find support groups within the community online, in the phone book, through your physician, and from organizations associated with the health problem of the loved one under your care.

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