Did you know that, according to the Mayo Clinic, approximately 1 in 3 adults in our country meet the definition of “caregiver” even though they may not identify as such? A caregiver is “anyone who provides help to another person in need, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative.” Almost 60% of caregivers work (or worked in the pre-pandemic days) outside of the home. For most, caregiving is a reflection of personal values and love. At the same time, the role comes with unique stress and can often give rise to feelings of anger, frustration, exhaustion, loneliness, and sadness. These feelings may carry an extra layer of heaviness if the person being cared for has a chronic mental illness.
If “caregiver” is one of your roles, you already know the importance of prioritizing your self care. While staying healthy – mentally, emotionally, and physically – matters, doing so may seem like yet another responsibility on an already full plate. Fortunately, there are several key things you can do to attend to yourself while you provide for someone who needs your help.
Start with the basics: eating right, sleeping well, and seeing your doctor for preventative checkups and vaccinations.
Next, focus on your risk factors and your stress.
In terms of risk factors, are you:
- Living with the person you are caring for
- Feeling isolated
- Feeling depressed
- Having financial difficulties
- Spending many hours caregiving
- Having trouble with coping skills or solving problems
- Being a caregiver because there is no other option?
Notice how stress affects you and identify how to reduce your stress
- Feel overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feel tired often
- Get too much sleep or not enough sleep
- Experience weight gain or loss
- Become easily irritated or angry
- Have little interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feel sad
- Have frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abuse alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications?
Consider these helpful strategies:
Be Realistic and Establish Daily Routines
Say “No” to requests for your time when doing so supports your necessary self care. Most people will understand. Create as much “normalcy” and continuity to your days
Others want to help but don’t know how. When someone asks, “How can I help?” be ready with specific, concrete ideas: “It would be great if you could run by the supermarket and pick up…” or, “If you could work on that puzzle with my dad for a couple of hours so that I can run some errands, I’d really appreciate it.”
You can find out about local caregiving resources in our community just by Googling. Here are a few that immediately appeared when I did so:
Carve out “Me Time”
This can be hard for caregivers who may feel guilty booking a massage, getting a pedicure, or playing a few rounds of golf. Remind yourself that “time for you” is an investment in your well-being as it counteracts burnout.
Caregivers are at a greater risk of isolation based on their role. Be intentional about reaching out to friends and neighbors. Set up walk dates, lunch dates, or even Zoom chats to ensure that you remain engaged with others.
Focus on the Positive
For some caregivers, that might mean staying committed to prayer, meditation or yoga. Others may benefit from keeping a gratitude journal, gardening, or even trying their hand at a coloring book to bring unexpected joy to the day.