Caregivers bare enormous amounts of stress. Being intimately involved with a loved one’s emotional, physical and mental health can be draining. Carrying personal life and work responsibilities adds to the daily burden of responsibilities. It can seem like an endless to do list with no end in sight. If you are the caregiver of a loved one, the only way you can sustain your energy and ability to care for them as you wish is to care for yourself.
As a caregiver this advice may seem impossible to adopt. However, if you don’t take care of yourself, sooner or later you may experience the symptoms of burnout and depression. That will make caregiving difficult and will remove you from the one thing you have committed yourself to - the care of your loved one.
Signs and symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts or irritability even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Sleep disturbances
- Lack of energy; even small tasks take extra effort
- Changes in appetite, weight loss or cravings and weight gain
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
As a caregiver, you can avoid becoming depressed if you follow these preventive and self-care strategies:
Ask for help.
Insist that family members help you with some caregiving responsibilities. Select things that you know they will actually be able to do. For example, your sister may not be able to take time off from work to spend a day with your loved one. However, she can combine some of your errands with hers, picking up groceries and prescriptions.
If a family member refuses to help don’t force the issue. That will just add more pressure to your life. Simply continue to ask them for help from time to time. They may eventually understand and begin to support you.
If your family won’t step in, seek help from non-profits and professional caregivers. Many churches offer free support for seniors. Research what is available in your community and take advantage of it.
Maintain your network of friends.
The poet John Donne said “No man is an island”. You must maintain your friendships in order to avoid isolation and depression. You need joy in your life in order to give it to your loved one. If you can’t go out for dinner with friends, invite them to your home. As you prepare meals for your loved one, save small servings of each dish. When your friends come over set the food on the table as a “small plates” meal. Ask them to bring the wine or sparkling water. Being a caregiver changes daily life significantly. It will take a bit of creativity but you can still enjoy your friends.
Take time for yourself.
You are going to have to be stubborn for this to happen. Carve out an hour for yourself every week and tell everyone that it is non-negotiable. Then meet friends, go to a movie, take a yoga class, go to church; do what you love. When you make it non-negotiable, you may be surprised at how people respect that and step in to help.
Happiness is essential to good physical and mental health. We posted interesting and effective tips to finding sustained happiness in our blog. When you make a decision to be happy, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and one that improves your life.
Above all, know that you can find professional help to support your caregiving. Our caregivers are highly trained in all facets of senior care
and we can give you the break you deserve. You can find time to care for yourself and relax knowing that your loved one is well cared for.