Caregiving is an admirable life mission that can be observed across cultures and time periods. It is a devoted full time job by itself, but it is often not recognized as such — by the general public, but even by the caregivers themselves. This often leads to serious psychological and even physical health issues in the people providing care to others, simply because the amount of care they give out becomes greater than the amount of care they actually give to themselves.
If you’re a caregiver, you probably know the story all too well. You know exactly how your loved one’s schedule should look. You make sure their food is tasty and nutritions, their liquid intake is sufficient, their pills are taken on time and their sleep is regular and peaceful. You know their biggest health risks, you’re one hundred percent on top of their condition, and you know by heart when and where the next three doctor’s appointments will be taking place.
But you probably already know where I’m going with this exhaustive list of your caregiver duties. If I asked you to stop for a minute, and tell me when was the last time you had your own health check-up, when was the last time you went out for a movie or dinner, or even had a bubble bath with candles and your favorite Bob Dylan vinyl, you would probably not even remember.
Watch out for the crisis indicators.
Going at full speed 24/7 and not giving yourself a break can lead to a phenomenon called “the caregiver burnout”. Every burnout is a dangerous one, and when not cured correctly it may spiral into more serious psychological and other health issues. It often starts out in a completely innocuous way — you find yourself needing one more glass of wine in the evening, your kids seem to act out more than usual, you often feel like the whole household would fall apart if it weren’t for you…. All these things are signs of being under too much stress. aarp.org offers a clear and self-explanatory list of the signs of approaching burnout and how to deal with them effectively. Check it out, maybe you’ll be surprised.
It is okay to make time for yourself.
Do not feel guilty to take some time off every now and then. You’re obliged to do so not only for your own needs, but also for the one you’re caring for. It is very important to relax every now and then and recharge your batteries.
Take the time to see people who make you feel happy and appreciated. Get outside every now and then, be it for a jog, a walk with the dog, or a shopping spree. Participate in activities that make you feel cared for, for a change — go get a massage, get your hair or nails done or do some yoga. The boost of energy and confidence will make you a happier — and therefore better — caregiver.
It is okay to feel bad at times.
We’re used to feeling ashamed of negative feelings: sadness, anger, loneliness. Even more so if these feelings are caused by the frustration and exhaustion from caregiving, where you may feel as if it’s selfish and rude to complain about anything at all. But that’s a mistake.
All our emotions, good and bad, need to be channeled and have an outlet in order for us to stay healthy and feel balanced. If you want to function, you have to let it out.
We are all just human, and despite our best intentions, we sometimes need to break in order to come back even stronger.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by negativity, don’t be afraid to speak up. You can voice your problems to your family or friends, or even find a local caregiver support group., such as the Area Agency on Aging in Dayton, OH. You can always find someone who will listen and offer some sort of support. Do not be ashamed, you are entitled to your feelings. They are as valid as the feelings of your loved one, or anyone else around you.
It is okay to ask for help.
Nursing home caregivers work in shifts. You don’t. They get paid for what they do, you don’t. They are not bound to their patients by family ties, you are. Which makes the job feel even heavier on your shoulders.
But remember, you don’t have to be alone in this. Distribute the responsibility, get the whole family involved, do not refuse help when offered just because it makes you feel weak and not in control of the situation. If the strain of caregiving becomes less heavy, you will have more positive energy left not just for caregiving, but also for your own activities. Which gets us back all the way to point two, where I talked about the importance of doing things just for your own happiness. Remember?
Finally, one last piece of advice. If you’re feeling like you’re losing control of the situation, if you start noticing serious health changes in yourself, or if you start having any other symptoms of a caregiver burn out, get in touch with your local senior care association immediately. They will know what to do. Do not underestimate the importance of caring for a caregiver. Especially if you are one.