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Tips for Caregivers – How to Take Care of Yourself and Avoid Burnout

Soldier sitting in gym with wife and daughter A participant and his family watch as wounded, ill and injured service members participate in the air rifle and air pistol competitions during the 2017 Army Warrior Games Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas (Department of Defense photo by Roger Wollenberg).

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Caring for a recovering service member can be hard. It can take on an added level of difficulty and stress when, as is often the case, that person is a friend, family member or loved one. Without time to recharge, burnout is a very real risk.

That's why it's so important for caregivers to take care of themselves, according to the Human Performance Resources by CHAMP (HPRC) team, part of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences' Consortium for Health and Military Performance, based in Bethesda, Maryland.

Whether it be physical support, emotional support, or just help with day-to-day activities, more than five million people in the United States are currently serving as “informal” military caregivers, without the pay, benefits or structured support systems from the civilian or Military Health Systems.

While social connections and family support are linked to healing and better outcomes after an injury, caring for a recovering service member you are close to may require more time and a higher level of resilience than, for example, caring for a child or an aging parent.

Among the Total Force Fitness and holistic health strategies the HPRC team suggests are:

Use TFF to Build Resilience and Cope with Emotional Stress

TFF focuses on overall health, including the physical, environmental, spiritual, psychological, social and financial components.

When taking on extra responsibilities, it’s common to feel negative emotions, stress, anger, frustration and even resentment. That puts caregivers at greater risk of depression, grief, exhaustion, and self-neglect. You are also more likely to develop your own health issues.

A holistic approach like TFF can increase your resilience and help address some of the emotional challenges.

Caregiver support strategies include:

  • Keep your nutritional and physical fitness in mind: Eat right, get the proper amount of sleep, exercise on a regular basis, and make regular visits with your doctor to get the best possible care.
  • Reconnect with your spirituality: Consider what matters to you and how you can connect your values to the support you provide.
  • Focus on problem solving: Often, tactical problems can be solved with a little bit of brainstorming and cooperation. List challenges and come up with strategies together as a family.

Optimize Financial Health

Because of the amount of time required to care for a recovering family member, there is often a link between financial strain and military caregiving. Some strategies to help optimize financial health are:

  • Know your resources. Several programs now offer financial and caregiving support to military families.
  • Don't let money troubles affect your relationships. If you take the time to discuss your financial concerns and focus on communication around money, your family can tackle financial challenges together.
  • Get into healthy financial habits. Budgeting can help you get on track when you are struggling. Small financial changes can make a big difference.

Build Social Support

It's easy to lose yourself while you're focused on caring for someone else, but you are not alone. Self-care and connection strategies include:

  • Get support. The Caregiver Resource Directory , Military Caregiver PEER Forum Initiative provide resources and link caregivers with other caregivers.
  • Set realistic expectations. Have patience and focus on the things that go well, not on setbacks or failures. Be open to change and look for creative solutions instead of "perfect" results.
  • Learn to say "no." Don't over-commit. Stay true to your priorities and say "no" to the rest.

More information from HPRC including links to resources for caregivers can be found here.

The HPRC team is made up of scientists, specialists and support staff who translate research into evidence-based resources to help warfighters and their families achieve total fitness and optimize performance, whether at home, in the office or in theater.

November is Warrior Care Month across the Department of Defense and DOD has no higher priority than caring for wounded, ill and injured service members and the caregivers who support them.

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