Avoiding Caregiver Burnout: 4 Ways Social Media Can Help

Caregiving can be an isolated road, and caregiver burnout is a real issue facing those who take care of their loved ones. When you have the responsibility of caring for someone, chances are that it’s up to you to find people who can relate to your life, especially with the nitty-gritty details of caring for a loved one like medications, doctors’ appointments, and incontinence issues. You don’t have to be among the majority of caregivers in the US, who are above the national average for issues like depression and anxiety due to the stress that comes from caregiving. Why? Well, if you’re struggling to find a safe place to talk and exchange caregiving and incontinence information, you can find support and share ideas with others facing similar dilemmas via social media. The help you receive can alleviate caregiver stress and steer you away from the path to caregiver burnout that often comes with your role as a family caregiver.

The breadth, accessibility, and (often) anonymity of the digital world's social networks can provide help to those caring for someone else.

Here's how social media can help you get the support you need to avoid caregiver burnout and empower you to be the best advocate and caregiver possible for your loved one:

1. Avert Caregiver Stress: Vent Your Emotions, 24/7

Caregiving can stir up a lot of difficult feelings, from resentment and anger to guilt and loneliness. Left unaddressed, they can lead to caregiver stress syndrome — a host of threats to your own physical and mental health. Luckily, you’re not alone! There are 43 million caregivers in the US, many of whom are engaged with other caregivers like you to advocate for a more burden-free life as a caregiver.

How social media can help:

  • Whether you're feeling resentful or tired, guilty about snapping at your loved one, or just plain mad, someone out there will know exactly what you mean. In fact, you’ll find that caregivers on social media encourage you to vent and share your experiences, validating your emotions and acting as your advocates. Releasing your emotions, instead of keeping them bottled up inside, is a proven way to help ease caregiver stress. Where friends and family might get tired of listening to you or take what you say the wrong way, the digital world is a safe, always-ready place to vent to sympathetic ears.

What to know:

  • Find a chat group online whose members are dealing with caregiver stress issues similar to your own. Read a few posts to get a sense of how candid the group’s posters are — most boards welcome honesty.
  • Three places to find a conversation board that's right for you:
    • Check the Web sites of major organizations that deal with your specific situation (e.g., Alzheimer's Association, Arthritis Foundation).
    • Look for Web sites that offer forums on a variety of caregiving topics (e.g., Caring.com, Caregiver Action Network, Facebook, Yahoo).
    • Search words like “discussion group” or “forum” and the condition you're interested in (e.g., incontinence, arthritis, diabetes). For example, this board hosted by TENA is called Fearless Stories.
  • Start a blog or try Twitter.
    A large body of research shows that writing about difficult experiences can boost immune function and curb stress, potentially fending off caregiver burnout. Blogging, in particular, has been shown to improve coping for students and new moms, two groups that, like caregivers, live pressure-cooker lives. Unlike diaries, many blogs allow comments, which help the writer feel more connected and supported.
  • Choose your level of anonymity.
    If you're concerned about the person in your care or other family members being upset by what you say publicly, use a persona on the Web. Chat groups often allow you to choose a nickname or avatar. On Twitter, you can pick a name that reflects your interests: @tiredcaregiver or @loyalson, for example. (If identity is a concern, take care to avoid sites that require logging in via Facebook or another account that's obviously linked to you.)

2. Get Advice from Those Who've Been There

Facing a tough decision? Wondering how to handle a situation? Friends and family are the natural top go-to sources of life advice for most of us. With caregiving issues, however, your family is apt to be wondering the same thing, and your friends often haven't personally dealt with Alzheimer's, incontinence, diabetes, or other issues. They might be able to weigh in on your problem, but they don't have the power of experience behind their suggestions. Or you may simply feel uncomfortable sharing specifics with others who know you.

How social media can help:

In the digital world, you’re definitely not alone. Not only can you find others who have faced similar situations, but a generosity of advocacy prevails. This means that when you ask a question, you usually get an answer — or dozens. Toss out your dilemma and see what others would do or have done. Getting fresh perspectives can lower your stress and confusion, again staving off caregiver burnout. And because you're not having the conversation in person, the identities of you and your loved one can remain protected. This is an important factor that will help you feel safe and like you’re not alone.

What to know:

  • Don't be shy about posting questions on interactive forums. Advice platforms like Ask.com, Yahoo! Answers, and Quora are dedicated to this kind of groupthink. Other sites, like Caring.com or ShareCare, let you ask a question of experts, though a reply isn't guaranteed and you usually have to wait longer for an answer.
  • Post a question on Twitter with hashtags (e.g., #incontinence) that alert those who might be following a certain topic.
  • Look around on the Web to see whether others have had similar dilemmas. Often, people share their stories in the comments sections of existing articles.
  • Your caregiving situation is distinctly unique. Keep in mind that there may not be an instance where you’ll have the same caregiving experience with another person. Instead, share your story and collect experiences and ideas from others who’ve been there. It’s likely you’ll gain some insight about your own situation from other people’s stories.
  • Don't go into it thinking you'll learn the "right" answer. Be prepared for a wide range of opinions, some of them strong, and ideas that may conflict with one another. Think of your query as throwing out a large net — you won't like all the fish you catch, but one or two might seem "just right" for you. There’s no one answer but instead a plethora of experiences that you can learn from and apply to your caregiving journey.

3. Research and Compare Practical Info

Caregiving demands a lot of new knowledge about products, resources, and services with which you may be unfamiliar. For example, if your loved one has incontinence issues, how will you figure out which products to try? How do they compare? Do they work in this situation or that? What kind of person does best with a particular product?

Again, you can ask family and friends, but they may not have deep experience in the realm of caregiving.

How social media can help:

The Internet is a great resource for shopping decisions like these. Today's buyers expect to find not only facts about products and services online, but opinions as well. You can search shopping sites and directories for ratings and comments, where previous users share what they think.

What to know:

  • Before you make a decision, consider searching and comparing comments in various places, to hear from many voices. In addition to sales outlets, you might find relevant comments on products and services in directories, on forums, or on places like Pinterest, where people highlight things they like.
  • Read deep into the comments section to get a fuller picture. Recognize that some people will give blanket praise and others will grind an axe, but when you read enough, you'll get a good sense of how something could work for you (or not).
  • Give as well as take to build robust directories. In addition to using the opinions you find to inform your own decisions, take time to contribute your own two cents. The more detailed your evaluation, the better. For something like incontinence products, for example, your fellow users want to know what you thought about the quality and effectiveness, how you liked the pricing, what the user thought about comfort and styling, and the ease of purchasing or customer service issues. Talk briefly about the age and condition of the person who used the products so that your comments are relevant to others who are searching.

4. Help Reduce Stigma, Raise Awareness

Family caregivers have a role that few people talk about but many people face. It’s true! The subjects caregivers deal with sound "scary" or mystifying to laypeople: Dementia; COPD; Parkinson's; and, of course, the many ailments associated with incontinence, from prostate cancer to overactive bladder and pelvic floor issues. Even though these subjects are not widely or publicly discussed, caregivers can still find the support and advice they need online to be properly equipped for the job.

How social media can help:

Advocating for people with a condition may not be the first reason you turn to social media — but its effects can reach many in need. Research shows that the more people hear about a subject, the less mystifying it is and the more comfortable they become with it.

Through social media, you can gain support while helping other caregivers (and the people with the conditions) feel less isolated by bringing difficult topics out of the shadows. Talk, tweet, post, write, and share about them. The more stories that are heard, the more accepted an issue becomes.

A good example is cancer. A generation or two ago, it was spoken about in hushed terms. Now public cancer support is widespread and commonplace.

Some people become advocates for a project to benefit a certain place or person, while others partake in a more general advocacy role simply by being part of the conversation.

What to know:

  • Think about what might go viral — that is, get lots of others' attention so they want to take action and share it, too. A vivid personal story? A moving photo? Search the Web and you’re bound to find a story to relate to or a platform to share your own!
  • Consider supporting those who take a leadership role in advocacy efforts with your "likes" and shared postings. Follow them and stay up on current events to know how you can help, and they can help you, too.
  • Know that everything you do in social media that's related to a challenging topic helps to elevate it in the public eye — whether you pin images of things that help you on Pinterest, tell your story in a forum, share Facebook posts, or comment on articles. There's normalcy in numbers!

Caring for a loved one can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. But remember to care for yourself, too, to avoid caregiver stress syndrome and burnout! Tap into the resources online to get care, support, and affirmation for the work you do so you can provide the best care possible. You’re not alone.

As the caregiver for my husband, we have tried other products but found Tena, the best. I am very confident when we go out that he will be protected from leaks and accidents.

- TENA® Customer in Mayfield, Kentucky

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