Taking Care of Yourself When You're a Carer
Becoming a family caregiver can happen suddenly, and in many cases, our responsibilities may increase rapidly. In either case, your life may become so focused on caregiving that you begin neglecting yourself and your own needs, and this can take a huge toll on you. Studies conducted by Yale University have concluded that 25% of family caregivers meet the clinical criteria for anxiety, while nearly 30% of those caring for terminally ill patients are affected by clinical depression. Finding a balance between your responsibilities and obligations as a caregiver and caring for your own mental and physical well-being may be easier for some of us than for others, but for all of us, balancing caregiving with self-care can be a challenge. Below are some tips to help you take better care of yourself while taking care of a loved one.
One of the biggest difficulties that befall family caregivers is the economic toll that caregiving can take on our lives through missed hours of work, lack of energy to pursue our own professional interests, and limited time for our own pursuits. Often in families, one person ends up burdened with the primary responsibility for the labour of caring for ageing parents. In these cases, consider drawing up a family contract to get siblings to pitch in and contribute to paying for the hours of labour you’re putting in. There are also other ways that you can get paid for caregiving and this can really help in concrete ways, as those hours and chores begin to add up and encroach on your ability to provide for yourself and your family financially. By assessing the financial value of the labour you’re contributing, you begin the arduous task of getting yourself recognised, acknowledged, and compensated.This list of benefits and the financial calculator will tell you which funding you can apply for.
Few things in life cause more stress than the pressure of being solely responsible for the well-being and happiness of another human being. When caring for seniors or a terminally ill patient, one critical need is to enlist two or three individuals who will commit to filling in for you as a backup if you should become ill or have a personal emergency to deal with. Knowing that you have a backup can make a huge difference in your peace of mind as a caregiver because nothing eases a humongous burden like the feeling that we have someone to help us carry it.
Another common symptom of burning out as a caregiver is abandoning your own health needs, not sleeping properly, exercising, or eating a balanced diet. The need to eat properly, and to get sufficient exercise and sleep intensifies when you’re under stress and it’s undeniable that caregiving increases stress levels. Give yourself the advantage of proper nutrition, exercise, and rest, as this physical support will give you the strength and wellness to cope with potentially challenging emotional situations.
While caregiving can become all-consuming, it is especially important to schedule some downtime and make sure you take this much-needed time to recharge, refuel, and regenerate your own life. According to Scientific American, “mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity” which means an improvement in your quality of life, and by extension, the quality of care that you can offer your loved one.
Caregiving can become especially challenging when you feel burned out by not having time or energy to express your personal creativity. One remedy for that is to make the actual act of caregiving more creative by incorporating fun technology and play into your caregiving routine. For example, using photographs, playlists or simple games, can help you pass the time creatively while adding a little lightheartedness to your day. This can have advantages for both the charge and the caregiver, as fueling the creative fire in each of you provides a slew of mental health benefits for you both.
Another important tool for balancing your own needs with your responsibilities and obligations as a caregiver is to stay socially active. Caregiving is no small feat, and the need for social support, distraction, laughter, and emotional connection cannot be underestimated. While some friends and acquaintances may disappear from your life as your new responsibilities pile up, new ones will come in and add life and colour to this new chapter of your life. Online communities such as Care Connection provide direct access to other caregivers who are going through similar challenges and can offer personal support. However you choose to stay connected, it is important that you remain integrated within a vibrant, active, healthy community in which you can let off some social steam and recharge your personal batteries!