Caregiver stress is more common than you think.
As a family caregiver you are like a frog in a pot of water. The heat keeps rising but you stay put taking on more and more stress and responsibility.
When do you get a break as a caregiver?
Does the cycle ever end?
Caregiver Stress-The Statistics
According to the National Alliance on Caregiving and the AARP, in 2015, 43.5 million American were unpaid caregivers for their loved ones.
Sixty percent of these people were female.
Older caregivers were more likely to be retired or unemployed.
And they were actively involved in communicating with the medical and nursing teams that might be involved in the care of their loved one.
As you can already see unemployment (and hence financial difficulty), old age and the responsibility of making sure the other person is alright are just “tip of the iceberg” catalysts for caregiver stress.
Thankfully, you don’t have to navigate this alone.
Check out these five tips for staying sane and taking care of yourself as a caregiver.
Give yourself permission to do something for yourself
Have you ever thought you are the only person who could possibly provide your loved one with the best care?
Or felt guilty that you took an hour to enjoy something for yourself?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are that you are experiencing caregiver guilt.
Caregiver guilt is an underlying reason for caregiver stress and it is important to recognize it when you begin to feel it.
It is alright to take a day off from care-giving to do something you love.
It could be:
- Enjoying the company of a friend for a few hours
- Taking a walk to the park to enjoy the outdoors
- A hike on a nearby trail
- A trip to the mall
It could be anything, really.
The point here is that you as a caregiver need to find something that gives you a relaxing outlet; something which takes your mind off your responsibilities for at least a few hours.
A relaxed mind and body will be rejuvenated and you will be able to give your loved one the best kind of care after you’ve done that for yourself.
Taking a day off your care-giving responsibilities is possible if you get help.
Do you need to hire home care assistance for a day or a few days each month?
If your insurance plan allows for it, go for it!
Research community resources
Tied into the point above, you should research community resources that allow you to take sometime to care for yourself.
So many local and state resources for the elderly go unused each year.
You might find out that there is a locally-sponsored adult day-care, opportunities for respite care- a local professional comes to your home for a few hours to relieve you of your duties.
A website that is handy when it comes to finding these types of resources is is Eldercare.gov.
Master your mental health
Mental health of caregivers is a serious topic that we don’t talk about often.
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health problems among caregivers.
Just like you take care of your physical body by eating healthy foods and drinking more water, it is important to take care of your mental health.
Some common signs that you’re struggling with your mental health include:
- Loss of energy
- You lose interest in your environment: people, events, work and even everyday tasks you used to enjoy no longer excite you.
- Sadness that lasts beyond two weeks. There is legitimate grief that happens with a major loss such as a death in the family or the loss of a job. If the sadness you are experiencing lasts beyond 2 weeks and begins to interfere with your daily activities, you need to speak to someone.
- You have problems concentrating.
- Start noticing changes in your sleep pattern.
- Changes in sex drive
- Persistent thoughts of harming yourself and/or others
- The inability to handle daily problems and stress. For instance, crying over an issue that is easily solvable but which now becomes overwhelming due to the presence of a mental illness
- You begin to have thoughts of harming yourself and others.
The moment you begin to experience one or two of these symptoms that lasts more than 2 weeks, you should talk to a mental health professional
A mental health professional will be able to help you navigate your feelings and will provide you with the best course of action for your particular situation.
Mental health resources
Here are some free mental health resources you can check out.
- Check to see if your local city as a mental health department. If they do, call them up.
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance will help you locate local support groups for people struggling with these mental health issues.
- Daily Strength provides an online support forum for people who have thoughts of harming themselves.
- Are you or a spouse a veteran? The Veteran’s Administration has mental health resources for veterans to help them cope with different difficulties.
Manage your physical health
Last but not least, it is important to manage your physical health as a caregiver.
As we’ve established, a stressed out, tired and not to mention sick vessel cannot be of much help to anyone else.
Thus, it is essential that you are exercising on a daily basis, eating healthy food and checking in with your personal doctor often.
Exercise for instance releases a group of chemical in your brain known as endorphins.
Endorphins interact with your brain cells to provide you with a sense of well-being.
And when your mind and body are in the right place, you can indeed be the best type of caregiver for your loved one.
Caregiver stress is real.
Never feel like you are being selfish for wanting to take care of yourself so that your loved one can in turn get the best care.
You work hard and you absolutely deserve it.
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Share it with someone who might be struggling with self-care as a caregiver.