When it comes to caring for people with serious or long-term illnesses, the most important—but too often ignored—aspects for caregivers is to make sure they care for themselves. If the caregiver’s emotional, physical, and mental health are adversely affected it is bound to have a detrimental effect on the well-being of the person.
Being a good caregiver starts with being good to yourself.
Let’s face it, as a caregiver you are highly likely to experience anxiety, stress, depression, and a lot of frustration. If you ever feel overwhelmed, don’t be hesitant about finding support.
It is fairly common for a caregiver to feel angry, alone, afraid, guilty, and sad. Talking to others who are also caring for family members or friends is a great help when you need to cope or destress. Do not be afraid to ask a social worker about local resources, like support groups. You can also seek advice from the support network program provided by the patient’s own medical center.
To recognize whether you are becoming stressed, watch out for the tell-tale signs, which include:
- Feeling constantly exhausted
- Falling ill more often than usual
- Not getting enough sleep
- Becoming impatient, irritable, or forgetful
- Not being able to enjoy things you used to like
- Withdrawing from family and friends
In order to get help, you need to ask people to help you care for the patient. They can assist with chores, errands, or even childcare that may be associated. There are often members of your family, your friends, or members of community and religious groups who would be willing to assist you. It is important that you don’t ignore these offers of help and provide people with tasks that would relieve your burden and this will perhaps give others a sense of purpose and accomplishment as well.
When you are able, it is advisable to give yourself time for your other relationships, because time spent doing something you enjoy with your own loved ones will allow you to relieve stress. Taking these breaks will help you be an effective caregiver. Spending time with people who are able to support you is key to your own well-being.
It may also be a good idea to seek financial assistance, because expenses for things like parking, transport, medications and food can easily add up and become another source of pressure for a caregiver. Explore whether there are any programs within the hospital or social services that can help. There are also many foundations that can also provide financial assistance.
It is not uncommon for caregivers to experience bouts of frustration and even anger, and feel guilty about it. These are natural emotions so look for positive ways to be kind to yourself; it will help you cope with difficult feelings. Talk to supportive friends, take up an exercise routine, or keep a journal.
Taking care of your own body is also crucial. Taking time out for exercise, eating healthy foods, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep are all important for managing your health and well-being as a caregiver.
The stress of being a caregiver can easily lead some to develop unhealthy habits, like drinking too much alcohol, smoking, or abusing prescription drugs. Many studies have found that caregivers suffer increased risks of depression and anxiety. If this applies to you arrange an appointment with your doctor or talk to a therapist. If you are finding it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle it may be time to seek out professional help.
Depression has many symptoms that can include feelings of despair and sadness. Other signs can include:
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Tired and lacking energy
- Losing interest in your normally enjoyable activities
- Difficulties concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Irritability and restlessness
- Suffering headaches
Anxiety is also a common response to stressful situations, but it’s important to keep it in check, because it can lead to health problems of your own.
The signs to watch for include:
- Difficulties with making decisions and focusing on tasks
- Feelings of tension
- Unexplained anger and irritability
- Difficulties sleeping
- Worrying excessively
To manage depression and anxiety, seek professional help and take steps to:
- Drink less alcohol
- Make plans for spending time with family and friends
- Join caregiver support groups
- Arrange enjoyable and relaxing activities
- Exercise, even if it’s for a small period of time each day
- Practice meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques
Making sure you look after your emotional and physical well-being will make you a better and more effective caregiver, which in turn will help the person you are caring for.