Q: How can I avoid burnout while serving as a caregiver for a loved one?

A: 'Tis the time of year when your to-do list runs long and time runs short. Whether it is holiday planning or year-end work piling up, we all can feel a little overwhelmed in December. For caregivers — those selfless people who care for an elderly loved one in addition to their immediate family — the season can take you over the edge.

Caregivers can experience feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, or fear. From there, the symptoms can worsen and include mood swings, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, weight loss or gain, withdrawing from social activities, and the inability to rest or relax.

How do you avoid losing yourself amid caring for everyone else?

First, know you are not alone. An estimated 23.5 million Americans actively care for elderly loved ones who have chronic illnesses.

Second, practice self-care. Follow these practices regularly:

  • Recognize in yourself the signs of stress — as you would in your loved one — and don't be afraid to ask for help.
  • Exercise. Walk, practice yoga or meditation, and make regular doctor and dentist appointments.
  • Celebrate and acknowledge a job well done daily.
  • Maintain relationships.  Remain socially connected with people; participate in activities.
  • Join a caregiver support group or network. Foster new relationships with those who are experiencing similar circumstances.
  • Identify a confidant to talk with who does not judge or criticize feelings or decisions.
  • Consider speaking with a therapist.
  • Seek respite care for your loved one through an organization like Mercy LIFE, and make time to pamper yourself.

Caregiving demands a lot from you – time, energy, and resources. You should not feel guilty when you take time away from your loved one. If you can't keep yourself healthy, how can you help your loved one?

Replenish yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Someone must care for the caregiver, and that person is you.

Suzanne Januszeski is the regional director at Mercy LIFE - West Philadelphia.