If you are a caregiver to a family member, let me start off by acknowledging how difficult it can be and how much energy you must be expending just to get yourself and your loved one through the day. While it may be a lonely endeavor, you are actually, not alone. According to a 2009 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP, more than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.
The role of caregiver is often not one that we choose, but is often thrust upon us by circumstance. We are often not prepared for what caregiving entails, and this can lead to feelings of overwhelm and depression.
While there are no easy answers or simple solutions, here are three ways to take care of yourself while taking care of another.
1. Enlist social support.
Asking for help can feel vulnerable. After all, we want to feel like we can handle it all. But going it alone can quickly lead to burnout. Ask friends, family members, and your community for help, and be specific. Depending on the person you’re asking, you might need emotional support, practical assistance such as help picking up prescriptions, caregiving respite, or help gathering information such as local caregiver resources. Keep in mind that others generally feel good about helping and will welcome being given concrete things they can do to support you.
2. Enhance your problem-solving skills.
Research shows that if a caregiver considers him or herself an effective problem-solver, they have a higher level of confidence in their ability to handle issues and complications that might arise; they also have increased ability to monitor their reactions and stress levels. This increase in confidence is linked to caregiver well-being and a decrease in depression. You can increase your problem-solving skills by establishing more streamlined routines and by sharing information with other caregivers.
3. Make time for yourself
Not neglecting your own needs might be the hardest of these suggestions to follow through on. Feelings of guilt are common, and it may seem like there isn’t time in the day. Without taking care of ourselves, however, we have nothing left to give others and we end up harming our own health. Identify what recharges you and make sure you make the time for it on a regular basis. Maybe it’s a yoga class, coffee with a friend, a few hours out of the house. Honor yourself by making your needs a priority.
Is there something that you've tried that has worked to decrease caregiver stress? Anything that you'd caution others to avoid? Please add your voice to the conversation by commenting below.