Taking care of a loved one who is ill or has been injured is a significant responsibility. Whether you’re caring for your disabled child, your husband who was injured in a car accident, or your aging parent who may be dealing with serious illness, you are making a huge difference in that person’s life.
But, who’s taking care of you? Let’s face it—being a caregiver is a demanding and stressful role. Of course, you would move mountains to help your loved one. Still, if you’re like many caregivers, you give so much of yourself that you often forget to take care of you. Or you just simply don’t have the time.
Caring for you, the caregiver, is 100 percent essential. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to be an effective caregiver. Otherwise, you risk suffering from burnout and exhaustion.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are just a few signs of caregiver stress:
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Feeling overwhelmed and irritable
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
If you’re feeling any of these signs of stress, it’s definitely time to take care of yourself too. Here are a few ideas to help you:
1. Take care of your physical needs.
Eat right. Don’t give into cravings for something sweet or just quick, easy food. You need healthy, wholesome food to re-energize yourself. Make this a priority.
Exercise. Make a commitment to get out and go for a walk or take an exercise class. Even a short, brisk walk in your neighborhood can make a big difference. Try to be consistent and commit to exercise at least a few days a week.
Sleep. Never underestimate the importance of sleep. If you don’t get enough, you’re at higher risk for getting sick. Lack of sleep can also affect your ability to make smart choices for nutritious meals. Too little sleep can make you irritable and feel even more stressed.
2. Ask for help.
Family and friends—People you know and love may not realize you could use a hand. And they won’t know unless you ask for help. This could make all the difference.
Community resources—If you don’t have family or friends available to help, there may be some other options:
- Home health services – Many communities offer professional home health agencies that have staff who will come to your home to provide care for your loved one.
- Adult day and senior centers – If you’re caring for an older person, there may be local services and organizations where your family member or friend can go for a few hours of fun, support, and social activities.
- Faith-based or civic organizations – Local organizations often have volunteers who help with cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and transportation.
- Home care services – If you need help managing home repairs and maintenance or yard work, consider hiring a professional. This can help take some things off your very full plate, so you can focus on your loved one.
3. Connect with friends.
It’s important you take time to spend with your friends. Whether it’s meeting for a cup of tea at home, going out to a movie, or simply taking a walk together, you need the opportunity to recharge your batteries with your social network.
4. Take advantage of support groups.
There are so many people taking care of loved ones, just as you are. This can be a very isolating experience. A support group can offer the opportunity for like-minded people to connect and share their experiences—the good and the bad. Numerous studies show that support groups provide people with a valuable sense of camaraderie and connection.
5. Give yourself a break.
Taking care of another person can be a full-time job. And, while rewarding, it may also be stressful. You want the best for your loved one, but you may sometimes feel that you need a break. And you do. No need to feel guilty. You need balance in your life so that you can be the best caretaker possible. Just like your family member or friend, you too are only human.