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When you’re stuck in the cycle of gerbil wheel caregiving, it’s hard to break free. Keep reading for actionable tips you can use to break the cycle today.

Updated May 6, 2022

What Is Gerbil Wheel Caregiving?

Harriet Hodgson first coined the term gerbil wheel caregiving in her 2020 blog, “Running in Circles: Gerbil Wheel Caregiving.” In her post, the seasoned caregiver, who has over 23 years of experience caring for intergenerational family members, wrote, “I’ve felt like I’m running around a gerbil wheel. It’s upsetting. No matter how fast I run or how long I run, I don’t seem to make any progress. I feel like I’m behind constantly.”

Hodgson’s feelings likely resonate with many people. But when these feelings happen, they might be hard to accept. It isn’t uncommon for caregivers to wonder, as Hodgson did, “Why is this happening to an experienced caregiver like me?”

Hodgson wrote how she ended the cycle of gerbil wheel caregiving before it led to caregiver burnout, starting by recognizing the need. Once she realized a change was necessary, Hodgson said she realized she needed to be proactive about following through with her decision.

“I’ve felt like I’m running around a gerbil wheel. It’s upsetting. No matter how fast I run or how long I run, I don’t seem to make any progress. I feel like I’m behind constantly.”

Harriet Hodgson

5 Ways To End Gerbil Wheel Caregiving

Hopping off the wheel might seem scary, especially if you feel like you can’t stop. But while the initial jump is daunting, it’s not impossible. Here are a few things you can do to make that leap.

1. Talk About Your Feelings

She began by talking to her husband, who she helps with daily tasks because he has paraplegia. Hodgson expressed how certain things he said made her feel more pressure, even though he didn’t intend his words to cause an additional burden for her.

Their talk eased some of Hodgson’s stress while caring for her husband and helped her be more patient with him. Likewise, caregivers on the brink of burnout might resolve underlying hard feelings by communicating them with those they care for. Discussing your feelings with other people around you, whether to other family members, colleagues, or friends, is essential for ending the cycle.

2. Don't Be Afraid To Set Boundaries

Hodgson said that she stopped gerbil wheel caregiving by asking her husband to wait. They agreed that she would explain what she was doing if he called for help and she was in the middle of another task, such as dishes or laundry. 

Setting boundaries like these are vital, and caregivers should be clear about their needs and work with loved ones to set limits. By asking her husband to wait (but still letting him know she’d be there), Hodgson no longer felt pulled in a dozen different directions. 

3. Take Care Of Yourself

Boundaries are healthy and a necessary part of maintaining your wellbeing. When caregivers set limits, they can make more time for themselves. Similarly, when Hodgson set boundaries, she also promised herself that she would make a better effort to care for her wellbeing. Self-care can be difficult for caregivers, especially if you feel you don’t have the time. But even as little as fifteen minutes a day can help you recharge.

4. Explore New Things

Gerbil wheel caregiving can make every day feel the same as the last. Adding something new (and positive) to your routine is an excellent way to mix things up and break the monotony of this cycle. Trying new things is one aspect of self-care that often goes unrecognized. But as Hodgson exercised self-care, she branched out to explore new hobbies and interests.

gerbil-wheel-caregiving-woman-relaxing-in-chair

5. Be Proactive About Self-Love

Besides caregiving, you have countless responsibilities — from housework to bills to your child’s extracurriculars.

As Hodgson worked to end the cycle, she recognized that she didn’t have to finish every task. So instead, Hodgson listened to her body: when she needed rest, she took a nap. And when she needed to put her feet up, she lay on the couch and read.

Hodgson observed that minor changes made a big difference, like putting her needs above tasks that she would eventually complete. And this difference helped her become a better caregiver.

Everyone’s situation is unique, but every caregiver has it within themselves to end the cycle of gerbil wheel caregiving. As Hodgson said, “I proved that I have the power to stop running in circles. You can too.”

MeetCaregivers Helps Stop Gerbil Wheel Caregiving

We can help you end the cycle of gerbil wheel caregiving. Call us at 1-888-541-1136 to ask about respite care, or visit the Find A Caregiver page to get started. We can avoid gaps in your loved one’s care while you get the break you need to rest and recharge.

Visit the Blog for more information and resources for caregivers, family members, and seniors.

  • Riddle, Robin. “‘Running in Circles: Gerbil Wheel Caregiving’ (The Caregiver Space Blog).” Brain Support Network, 18 Apr. 2020, www.brainsupportnetwork.org/running-in-circles-gerbil-wheel-caregiving-the-caregiver-space-blog/.