Finding out that a loved one is ailing is not only stressful – it’s downright frightening. In a short time, many people are not only forced to take stock of the situation — they also become designated caregivers. A caregiver is anyone who provides help to an ill spouse or partner, disabled child, mother or father, or an aging friend or relative.
While rewarding at times, being a “caregiver” can be an overwhelming task: Physical demands can be strenuous. Emotional stakes are often high. Feelings of anger, frustration, exhaustion, loneliness, and sadness are all very common. In fact, research shows that caregivers themselves are often at risk for depression and illness — especially if they don’t receive adequate support.
As a new caregiver, you may be so focused on your suffering loved one that you don’t realize your own health and well-being are suffering. That’s why it is critical that you first take care of yourself.
Here are 7 tips for managing caregiver stress and potential burnout.
1.) Don’t Wait for Help, Ask for It.
The daily tasks involved with caregiving can strain even the most resilient person. That’s why it’s so important to ask family and friends for help. For some people, this is not easy to do; they’re afraid to impose on others, or worried their requests will be ignored. However, in many cases, family and friends want to help, they just don’t know how. Make it easier for them by identifying all of your caregiving tasks and determining which ones you are able to accomplish on your own. The remaining tasks on the list are the ones you can delegate to friends and family members.
Remember: Do not try to do it all. If you don’t get the support you need, you’ll quickly burn out.
2.) Make Your Physical Needs a Priority.
Don’t give in to stress-induced urges to binge eat or overindulge in alcohol. Take care of your body by eating nutritious meals. Get a lot of rest. Take naps if you are able to. Find time to exercise, even if it means you have to ask someone else to provide care while you head to the gym or go on a long walk or run. Most importantly, talk to a medical professional if you experience symptoms of depression, such as:
- Extreme sadness
- Trouble concentrating
- Thoughts of suicide
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems.
3.) Get Organized.
You are not perfect. No one is. Believe that you are doing the best you can and that you’re making the best decisions you can. Keep organized by using simple tools like calendars and to-do lists. Doing this will not only give you confidence, it will help you prioritize your responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to requests that you feel might drain you of energy.
4.) Join a Support Group.
Support groups are everywhere and can be extremely valuable for caregivers. They provide validation and encouragement, as well as strategies for dealing with difficult and stressful situations. Support meetings will also open doors to other caregiving resources in the community, such as transportation assistance or meal delivery services. Support groups can also be good places to create new friendships.
5.) Encourage Your Loved One’s Independence.
Just because you are a caregiver does not mean that you have to do everything for you loved one. Be open to using new technologies and strategies that allow your loved one to be as independent as possible. Remember: You know your loved one the best. Heed the advice of doctors and specialists, but listen to your gut, too.
6.) Be Prepared for Caregiving Emergencies.
It’s not uncommon for newly designated caregivers to live more than an hour away from their loved one. To avoid the stress and anxiety of long-distance care, be prepared for caregiving emergencies by:
- Setting up an electronic alert system for your loved one in which a small device is worn and can be used to summon immediate help in life-threatening emergencies.
- Using a case manager assigned by the hospital or insurance plan. Case managers can work with you to coordinate care, monitor your loved one’s progress, manage billing, and communicate with family.
7.) Stay Positive.
Do your best to avoid negativity, even on the most challenging days. Resolve conflicts quickly. Learn how to regulate yourself and de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed or angry. Pat yourself on the back for how much you are doing, and focus on the rewards of caring for someone you love.
The Big Takeaway
Lastly, in reviewing our 7 tips, remember that if you’re like most new caregivers, you aren’t trained for the responsibilities you now face. There’s no getting around it – caregiving is stressful. The good news is that you don’t have to be a superhero in order to be a good caregiver. With the right help, support, and some personal TLC — you can be an effective, loving caregiver without having to sacrifice yourself in the process.