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Caregiver Burnout - Write it Down!

Monday September 15, 2014

Caregiver burnout reflects a change in attitude about and toward your loved one and situation. For many, caregiver burnout is caused by emotional and physical stress that is associated with the toll caregiving can place on finances, social engagement and physical health. Common symptoms of burnout are fatigue, anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia and guilt. You may find that your outlook or behavior changes from one of caring and supportive to one that is negative, easily frustrated or angered.

Simple steps can make a difference

Medical research finds that keeping a journal can help. getty_rf_photo_of_woman_writing_in_notebookThis technique is ideal because it places little additional stress on you- it is free, easy to do anywhere, requires no real preparation and takes just a few minutes. Journaling is a way to identify your feelings, reflect on your routine, unexpected moments of joy or gratitude and personal needs.

What is involved with Journaling?

Keeping a journal means that you will write (or record) a daily record of your experience. It is different than a diary that focuses on daily activities or what you did for the day.  This is an important part of journaling but journaling includes much more. For instance, it is an opportunity to express your emotions, how you feel about a change, your wishes, desires and hopes.  For some it is a reflection of their internal dialogue or thoughts put on paper. 

How can it help?  Journaling is:
  • Time to Focus. Organizing our thoughts, events, priorities and expectations helps us focus and reach our goals.
  • Time to ourselves. Think of this time as ‘your quality time’. Time to think about what is important to you, your wants, desires, successes, disappointments, fears and struggles
  • Time for self-exploration and introspective.  As author Donna Oiland states in her book titled Legacy, “Life experiences connect us to one another…The most meaningful and powerful stories are often drawn from commonplace occurrences.
  • Is Emotionally Healing.  Parkinson’s can lead to many ups and downs for you and the whole family.  Journaling is one way to help you through the bad times and chronicle the good times.  It can help you process your emotions and deal with daily stress. For some, journaling can improve mood and stress.
  • Therapeutic.  People that experience emotional or stressful events but due not express, share or communicate their emotions, otherwise called type D personality, may be at increased risk for health problems.  Journaling is especially helpful for people with chronic conditions or caregivers that tend to ‘hold things in’ and tend not to discuss their issues, concerns or emotions. 
    The benefits of journaling on heart disease and heart treatments shows that this simple exercise can help medical conditions.  How it affects Parkinson’s and other brain conditions is not yet clear as research has not yet explored this question.    
  • Creates a Legacy with your Life Story. Create family keep sake for future generations to enjoy.

How do I start?

  • Buy or make a special notebook- a place where you will collect all of your thoughts.  It is perfectly fine to use the computer to make entries or a tape recorder.  You may even want to create a journal jar- like a tip jar.  This allows you to write down simple ideas, thoughts, etc and slip them in a jar to pull out and read again in the future.  Some people find it helpful to pull out old entries and write a response to this entry such as how your feelings or the situation has changed, what you have learned or how you have grown since then.
  • Journal about what ever comes to mind. It is helpful to focus not just on events but how you feel and bout them, what you have learned from them or what they mean to you.
  • Spend 5 to 15 minutes a day or at least a few times a week. Like any daily task, it is helpful to develop a routine perhaps journaling the same time every day. Write honestly and be open about your feelings and thoughts. 
  • Make it a positive and introspective experience; one that you look forward to each day. Find a quiet area to relax into. Make your favorite cup of tea or even indulge in that piece of chocolate you crave.
  • Decide whether you would like to keep your entries private or use it as an opportunity to open up discussion or dialogue with family, friends or your clinicians. 
  • Books are available to help you with the process.  You may wish to join a Journaling class. 
Is it for everyone?

Journaling may not be for everyone.  Talk to your healthcare provider to see if it is right for you, especially if you suffer from serious depression, anxiety or other psychiatric condition as journaling can bring deep seated emotions to the surface.

Monique L. Giroux, MDMonique L. Giroux, MD
Guest Blogger, Former Medical Director of NWPF

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