How Caregivers Can Overcome Feelings of Exhaustion

I have stated frequently that caregivers are our silent heroes. Why? Because the patient comes first and the individual caregiver places him/herself a far distant second in terms of maintaining one’s personal health and wellbeing.

Doing so over an elongated period of time could cause one to become exhausted.

  • As a caregiver, do you find yourself tired on occasion, or are you exhausted day in and day out? 
  • Do you find that what used to be simple and mindless activities are now a great deal more challenging and tiring than previously experienced? 
  • Do you suffer from insomnia; even though you are so tired you can’t believe you can’t fall asleep?  
  • Are you more tense and quick-tempered than usual? Have your eating habits drastically changed? 
  • Do you lack the initiative and drive to do anything other than what is absolutely necessary?

These are actually very important questions. If you find yourself nodding affirmatively to the questions posed above, it could be that your mental fatigue is evolving into a rather unhealthy level of stress.

Initially, I suffered from many of the symptoms that are warning signs your body is breaking down. The most apparent symptom was insomnia. Many nights I stared at the ceiling as my mind raced day and night. Whether I slept in the hospital on an uncomfortable cot or within the confines of my own bed, the results were the same.

It didn’t take long to realize it was impacting me in other ways, as well. Though I tried to hide it to the best of my ability, I found my level of patience was becoming depleted. Every request made by my wife caused me to become annoyed. I always did what she asked, but internally, I became aggravated with her. I’m not sure I did a great job of hiding it at all times. Without sleep, I became lethargic, I suffered from headaches and body aches, and generally became a less happy person.

Finally, after much coaxing from my wife and the hospital nurses of whom we were the closest, I relented and scheduled a visit to our family physician.

Though I have always found her to be brilliant, her diagnosis is one I could have easily made for myself. “You have to stop burning the candle at both ends,” she advised, “or you will be absolutely no good to your wife at all.”

She was right. I knew it.

A thorough medical examination was conducted to ensure I was not suffering from a more serious ailment. She mentioned the possibility of anemia, dehydration, the onset or worsening of diabetes, and several other possibilities. Fortunately, my body was deemed to be in good working order.

It was at that point that a disagreement ensured. She insisted I fill a prescription for sleeping pills. I insisted I didn’t need them. We stated our points, and as always, she won and I accepted her declaration and prescription.

I filled the prescription but was reluctant to open, remove and swallow the tiny capsule that would provide me with a good night’s sleep.

Finally, after another 48 hours of pure frustration, I relented.

The result? I slept like a baby!

Almost immediately, the negative symptoms caused by the insomnia reversed themselves. I felt much better, but not quite back to normal.

The hospital pharmacist, who had become a close friend to my wife and me, began to watch over me as if I was her second dad. Her recommendations were sound, and I began to practice each. The result was I felt better than I had since our ordeal with my wife’s second bout with cancer began.

Her suggestions to battle exhaustion included:

  • Exercise more often
  • Take vitamins and minerals to help boost my system
  • Eat regular meals. Avoid fried and fatty foods. Replace them with fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat more fish and less red meat.
  • Force myself to take breaks from my caregiver role so I can recharge my battery.

All of her suggestions, along with the sleeping pills, worked wonders in improving my ability to function as a contributing caregiver. As a result, I did a better job taking care of my patient and myself.

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About Rob Harris, SPHR

I am a seasoned and accredited Human Resources professional working for a major corporation, specializing in assisting corporate executives and all others with their strategic and employee relations needs. More importantly, I am a Caregiver. My wife is a two-time cancer survivor (Lymphoma, Sarcoma). My life has been enriched beyond imagination by caring for her over a period of many years. We are the proud parents of two sons, both serving in the U.S. Army. Presently, my youngest son is protecting our country's freedom in Afghanistan. His older brother returned from that country not long ago. Personally, I love to write, cook, and gaze upon the ocean as often as possible.
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