If you are a caregiver or parent taking care of a loved one suffering from a mental or physical illness, or a caregiver of an aging parent, it is inevitable that you will feel overwhelmed, exhausted, angry, sad, or frustrated, or perhaps a combination of all of these at times. This is quite natural, and it is very important to take steps to maintain your own wellbeing while providing care for another. It is important to acknowledge and manage your own stress and to know when and how to ask for help when you need it.
Identifying Your Own Stress as a Caregiver
There are several emotional and even physical indicators that can be a reaction to stress. These can include:
- An inability or lessened ability to focus and concentrate. If you are spending all of your time and energy helping someone with their needs, this can impact your ability and energy to focus on your own needs.
- Feeling emotionally drained and overwhelmed. If you feel that you are falling behind or are unable to keep up with all of your responsibilities for your loved one, your home, family and work-life, and for yourself, this can be a strong sign that you are suffering from caregiver stress, and it may be time to seek help.
- Body aches and pain. Stress can manifest in physical form as well. Headaches or body aches and pains that occur regularly for you can be caused by stress.
- Personality Changes. If you notice yourself become more easily angered or irritated, or more prone to sadness or worry, this could indicate that you are undergoing stress as a caregiver.
- Self-isolating. As well as being a possible symptom of depression, this can be a reaction to the stress you are undergoing.
- Loss of interest in an activity you used to enjoy. If you no longer enjoy the activities that once bought you joy, this is a strong indicator that you should reach out and ask for help.
- Bad sleeping habits. A change in your sleep habits- be it exhaustion not fixed by sleep, or suffering from insomnia can be an indicator that you need help with your situation.
Reaching out for help can mean getting another relative, loved one, a trusted friend or neighbor, or home healthcare professional involved in assisting with caring for your loved one, giving you a break from your caregiver roll, and let you “come up for air”
Reducing Your Caregiver Stress
In addition to reaching out for help above, there are other personal steps that you can take to help reduce your stress. These can include:
- Seeking out and participating in caregiver support groups in your local community. Sharing with and listening to people who are also in a caregiver role can be a source of comfort and stress relief.
- Take regular self-time to focus on your self-care. It’s been said that “you can’t pour water from an empty glass” which means that you can’t properly provide care for someone else if you are not taking care of yourself as well. Treat yourself to a massage, a spa day, or spend time simply relaxing with some quiet time, or doing an activity you enjoy to recharge your batteries.
- Get outside. It’s important to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. A nice walk or even just relaxing outside can do a world of good for you.
- Eat healthily and exercise. Getting good nutrition, making sure you stay hydrated, and taking time to exercise even 15-30 minutes daily can help keep you in good health, allowing you to care for yourself and for others.
- Set goals that are achievable and then track these on a list. Doing so will help you be aware of priority items for both you and the person you are caring for and can help manage daily stress by marking each off as you complete them, or by helping you prioritize what can be moved to the next day or even later in the week as needed.