If you make sure mom or dad get to their appointments on time, you’re a caregiver.
If you help an aging parent perform some of their daily tasks like eating or dressing, you’re a caregiver.
If you do things for anyone who routinely needs assistance, you’re a caregiver.
You. Are. A. Caregiver.
So often, people who do things like making sure an aging parent has food prepared, getting them to appointments and such don’t see themselves as caregivers. Caring for a loved one, helping with those little day-to-day- tasks, is just what we do because we love and care about them. But stack up a bunch of those little things over the course of days or weeks and you’ll find that you’re probably doing quite a lot. You might argue, that’s “just being a good child.” That may be true but make no mistake that’s also being a caregiver.
Why Does It Matter?
It might seem like caring for someone is “just what we do” because we love them. That is true. However, it is also important to recognize the significant physical and emotional toll caring for a loved one can take on you.
Being a caregiver, especially for someone we love, is an emotional experience. Witnessing the one you love struggle to maintain their independence can be excruciating. Multiply this over days, months or even years and the impact can be significant even for the most, patient, loving and stable person.
Over time, people who routinely care for others can develop something called compassion fatigue or caregiver stress. You spend so much time caring for others, experiencing the intense emotions that come with the role. What do you do with all those feelings? Most people who are caring for someone simply brush them aside and carry on. While you can do that for a while, emotions have a way of making themselves known. And the results can be devastating.
It is well-known that long-term caregivers can experience intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, isolation, anger, exhaustion and even guilt for feeling the way they do. Over time, these feelings can become more intense and affect you physically too.
It’s important to recognize when you’re overwhelmed. Do you recognize any of these signs in yourself?
- Mood swings
- More irritable or frustrated with things
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating or remembering things
- Feeling alone
- Increased use of alcohol or medications feel better
- Feeling unhappy with your role
- Headaches or body aches
- Tummy trouble
- High Blood Pressure
- Palpitations, chest pains
Of course, these symptoms can be attributed to other things but they have also been linked to caregiver stress. If you’re a caregiver and you’re finding any of these are bothersome, you may be seeing the signs of stress.
You might be thinking, “I can’t just stop so what can I do?” The answer is spend a little time taking care of you!
Self-Care Tips For Caregivers
It is easy to put ourselves way down the list when it comes to taking care of ourselves. After all, there’s only so many hours in a day and others need us. But, think about this: if you get burned out or sick, who will care for those you love?
Self-care is something you do for you and for them. You can’t give someone what you don’t have to give. Self-care allows you to recharge and restore your physical and emotional energy so that you can be healthy and present for your loved one.
1. Take Time to Disconnect – Stepping away from caregiving duties, even for small pieces of time, is important. It allows you to turn off the caregiver mode and physically and emotionally step back. Disconnecting does not mean not caring. It simply means allowing yourself to have a break from the stress for a moment. Some ways to do this might be asking a trusted friend or relative to sit with your loved one for a few hours, arranging for some respite services or even hiring a sitting service for a few hours.
2. Take Time to Decompress – Remember the relaxing things you used to do before you took on the caregiving responsibilities? Maybe you were a runner or a dancer. Maybe you found peace in painting or drawing. Those activities are so, so important especially in trying times. They allow us to release stress and anxiety while recharging us physically and emotionally. Plan these breaks into your schedule. You need this break. It will allow you to come back refreshed and ready to carry on.
3. Look for Solutions – Taking care of someone is hard work! It’s tempting to just do things the same old way because that’s the way we’ve done it for so long. (In the moment, it doesn’t matter that it makes things harder, we just want to get it done.) If you find yourself thinking, “Ugh, there’s got to be a better way”, that might be something that needs a solution. For example, maybe your loved one has difficulty reaching things and you are constantly being called upon to reach something they’ve dropped. Solution: a long-handled grabber. Maybe your loved one has difficulty with spilling when eating or drinking which means more clothing changes for them and more laundry for you. You’ve tried towels that slip off or embarrass them in public. Solution: bibs for adults like the ones at Classy Pal. The point is to find tools and tips that ease the stress for you and help your loved one be as independent as possible.
4. Connect with Your Support System – When we’re caring for a loved one, it is easy to let it become all-consuming. When that happens, we tend to become isolated from other family and friends. Especially in times of great stress, we need our support system. They play a crucial role in our emotional well-being. They may not be able to change the situation but they can offer us comfort, support, advice and a pleasant break from the seriousness of caring for someone. Sometimes friends and other family won’t reach out. It isn’t because they don’t care. They may not realize the challenges you’re dealing with or they may not know what to say or how to help. Reach out. Let them know you are here and let them support you.
5. Practice Gratitude – This one may seem kind of strange to you. However, gratitude is one of the most powerful ways of thinking especially in times of great stress. Why? Gratitude helps us to focus on the here-and-now, to recognize what is happening now and be present for it. Yes, your loved one is facing great challenges but you can focus on now, on the time you have with them and allow yourself to feel grateful or thankful for the time. Gratitude changes the way we perceive our world in a profound and positive way. Practicing gratitude has been linked to better sleep, decreased anxiety and more positive outlook. One way to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Each day, take a few moments to acknowledge what you are thankful for that day. You can even practice gratitude with those you love. Acknowledge someone you’re grateful for or something they did for you. There are great apps and websites to help you get started.
Being a caregiver is one of the hardest yet most satisfying roles you will take on. It does not have to consume you. You can be a loving, present and dedicated caregiver while still taking care of you. Your loved one relies on you. Taking care of you is the greatest gift you can give them and yourself.