At some point in your life you may need to, or already have, taken on the role of caregiver to a loved one. The following statistic gives you an idea of the magnitude of caregivers in the United States – 65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the U.S. adult population providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged. ~The National Alliance for Caregiving (2009).
The caregiver role includes a range of responsibilities based on the level of care your loved one requires. Whether it’s short term or long term care, it typically creates unbalance in our lives. Caring for a loved one has its challenges and can become overwhelming, which takes its toll on the relationship as well as our health.
The main concern is stress which leads to burnout. When it gets to that point, you are of little help to yourself, let alone anyone else. Understanding the symptoms of stress will help you manage the effects to avoid succumbing to burnout. The list below shows some symptoms of stress but is not all-inclusive.
· Difficulty sleeping
· Difficulty concentrating
· Feeling tired or rundown
Knowledge is power, so understanding more about stress and how to deal with it is the first step. Understanding your triggers for stress will also provide the information you need, to combat the situation before it rises to an unmanageable level. Use the tips below to provide the self-care required to maintain your well being in your role as caregiver.
1. Your needs
Determine what is it that you do now or have done in the past to eliminate your stress. There are many ways to reduce, or eliminate stress. Some common activities include – deep breathing, physical & mental exercises, meditation, comedy clubs or movies, 7-9 hours of sleep per night, petting your dog or cat, and massage. Think about what you usually do to tone it down when faced with a stressful situation.
2. Schedule ‘me time’ regularly
The definition of ‘me time’, and the regularity will be different for everyone. For some it could mean something as small as a 15 minute warm, bubble bath. For others it could mean a two hour lunch with the girls. It actually means whatever it takes for you to unwind, and recharge.
3. Let your emotions come out
Realize that caregiving is a tough job, and most care recipients understand that as well. When you provide care for someone else, you WILL feel frustrated, angry, sad, overwhelmed, and many more negative feelings, and also some positive feelings. We have a tendency to try to keep these negative feelings inside, so we don’t upset our care recipients. It’s true we don’t want to upset them, but even though you try not to let it show, it will. When you realize a negative feeling is coming on, I recommend that you go someplace out of earshot to let out your feelings. I even apologized in advance to one of my care recipients, because I knew that I may, let’s say, be less than amiable at some point. You need to get it out of your system in some way. Sometimes just talking with another family member or a friend helps. There are also support groups for caregivers that really understand what you’re going through.
4. Get help
No one can, or should take on the role of caregiver alone. We all have full lives, and this role will add to a potentially already full schedule of activities for ourselves. Because of this fact, we need help to fulfill our role of caregiver, not only for us but also for the care recipient. The type of help you need will depend on the level of care required by the care recipient. Determine the times in the day or night when you need the most help. If you have other family members that can help, that’s great, if not, there are respite care services available.