Millions of Americans are currently caring for a family member, friend or neighbor, typically because of injury, illness or frailty. According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 39% of American adults are family caregivers, and 70% of those are in the workforce. The burdens of caregiving have a tremendous impact on the physical and mental health of caregivers. It’s important that you take care of yourself in order to prevent exhaustion, health problems and burnout.
As a caregiver, you may be so focused on you loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain of other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
If you experience symptoms of depression – extreme sadness, trouble concentrating, apathy, hopelessness, thoughts about death – talk to a medical professional. Depression can strike anyone and caregivers are especially vulnerable. It is the most common healthcare condition reported by family caregivers.
Here are some tips that may be of help to you through trying times:
- Be mindful of your own health. Make your needs known and create time to do the things that are mportant to you personally. Eat nutritious meals. Don’t give in to stress-driven urges for sweets or overindulge in alcohol. Get enough shut-eye; if you have trouble sleeping at night, try napping during the day. Mini-breaks are an easy way to replenish your energy and lower your stress. Try simple activities like taking a walk around the block or closing your eyes for 10 minutes in a comfortable chair.
- Gather information. There is truth to the phrase, “knowledge is power.” Having knowledge about your loved one’s condition, injury or illness will help put you at ease because you will know what to expect. Become an advocate for your loved one and yourself.
- Connect with friends. Isolation increases stress. Getting together regularly with friends and relatives can keep negative emotions at bay.
- Ask for help. Make a list of things you have to do and recruit others to pitch in. Even faraway friends and relatives can manage certain tasks.
- Call on community resources. Consider asking a geriatric care manager to coordinate your loved one’s care. Contact your Area Agency on Aging and ask about resources available to you. The National Eldercare Locater, a service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, can also help you find your local AAA. Contact your church and find out if the have an elder outreach coordinator / program.
- Take time for yourself. Taking some time away from the responsibilities of caregiving is not selfish and will improve your capacity to care for your loved one. Lifeline Homecare can help shoulder some of the many responsibilities of caregiving through our respite care services and other services like cooking, light housekeeping, and transportation services. Volunteers or staff from faith-based organizations or civic groups might also visit, cook and help with driving/running errands.
- Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.
- Keep a caregiver notebook. A three-ring binder that has important papers about your loved one and their care can be a great resource for you when trying communicate with the myriad of agencies and individuals helping you care for your loved one or providing resources to you. Information contained in the binder may include the following: important phone numbers; social security papers; Veterans Administration papers; bank account information; long-term care insurance policies; and, power-of-attorney and other legal documents. Having this information at your fingertips can help smooth out any rough spots and connect you with help.
- See your doctor. Get recommended immunizations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.
In addition to the tips listed here, HelpGuide.org has an exhaustive list of what you can do to ensure you are taking care of yourself and your loved one. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/caregiving/caregiving-support-and-help.htm.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health, also has some useful information on caregiver stress that may assist you. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/caregiver-stress.html.
Contact Lifeline Homecare to find out more about how we can help: firstname.lastname@example.org