When you’re caring for a loved one who is coping with a serious or life-limiting illness, you may find that your responsibilities are taking a serious toll on your physical and emotional well-being.
Rest assured you’re not alone: as many as one in three family caregivers report experiencing high levels of stress.
As a caregiver, it can be hard to see past the long list of tasks that await you each day to identify and respond to your own needs. However, if you don’t invest in taking care of yourself first, not only will the quality of the care you provide suffer, but you’ll put yourself at risk for fatigue, health problems and even depression.
If you don’t invest in taking care of yourself first, not only will the quality of the care you provide suffer, but you’ll put yourself at risk for fatigue, health problems and even depression.
Here are 12 proactive steps you should take to safeguard your own mental and physical health so you can continue to provide the best possible care for your loved one:
Even when time is short, it’s important to continue to eat healthful, balanced meals and to exercise regularly. Nutrition and physical activity are two critical elements to keeping your energy level high and combatting depression.
Avoid the temptation to give in to stress-induced cravings for sweets and other junk food. Instead, remember that even a brisk, 20-minute walk around your neighborhood can do wonders for your health and your mood.
If you’re perpetually exhausted, your ability to care for your loved one, cope with stress and make good decisions will suffer.
It’s important to make sure you get enough rest. If your caregiving duties interrupt your sleep at night, short naps during the day can provide an extra boost of energy.
Remember to schedule your own doctor’s appointments, including your annual physical as well as dental and vision check-ups. Be sure to discuss even minor concerns about your health with your physician to ensure that any potential problems are diagnosed and treated right away.
If you’re sick, allow yourself to take time off from work and other responsibilities to recover. If you try to push yourself too hard when your system is already compromised, you’ll only prolong or worsen your illness.
Chances are, your family and friends really do want to pitch in, but they may not know how, so don’t be shy about asking them to lend a hand.
Think about the interests of the person whose help you are seeking, and identify ways they can help that play to their strengths. Your neighbor who loves to cook would probably be glad to make dinner and give you a night off from kitchen duty, while your granddaughter who just got her driver’s license would be happy to run errands for you.
Even those who live far away can help out, whether by doing research online or spending time on the phone with the insurance company.
Keep a running list of tasks that need to be done, so that when someone asks how they can help, you can offer them a few options to choose from.
When you have less time to spend with friends and family, it can be difficult to get the emotional support you need. Isolation can increase stress or, even worse, lead to feelings of resentment.
The simple act of sharing your feelings and concerns can be very therapeutic.
Don’t try to go it alone. The simple act of sharing your feelings and concerns can be very therapeutic, so it’s important to find an outlet where you can express your thoughts and emotions.
Friends outside the family can be a great source of impartial comfort and empathy. Professional counselors, caregiver support groups and even online caregiver communities are another good outlet where you can talk honestly and openly with people who understand the many challenges you are facing.
Remember that your mental well-being is as important as your physical health to your ability to provide the best care and support to your loved one.
Set aside some time to do the things that bring you happiness. Even a simple activity such as reading, knitting, watching a movie, taking a walk or playing with your grandchildren can give you a chance to clear your mind and refocus your energy.
From doctor’s appointments to medications to household chores, there are many tasks and responsibilities that you must keep track of from one day to the next.
Good organization will go a long way toward relieving you of the mental clutter that can impede your ability to focus and think clearly. Keeping to-do lists and calendars is a simple way to restore your sense of control and alleviate anxiety about letting important appointments and tasks slip through the cracks.
One major source of stress for caregivers is uncertainty regarding what to expect from their loved one’s condition or how to administer care at home.
Don’t be afraid to ask your physicians and nurses any and every question that might be on your mind. By eliminating the unknowns and the “what ifs,” you can reduce the worries that weigh on your mind day in and day out.
If a friend, neighbor or co-worker approaches you to ask for a favor, don’t feel guilty if you can’t oblige their request.
Simply be honest and explain your situation. There’s no need to feel obligated to take on extra responsibilities during one of life’s most difficult times.
As a caregiver, you want to do everything possible to meet the medical and emotional needs of your loved one. But with all the demands on your time and energy, it’s easy to be critical of yourself and fault yourself for not doing enough.
Remember that you’re only human, and there are limitations to what you can do. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” caregiver. Instead, acknowledge and commend yourself for your inner strength and focus on the rewards of providing care to the one you love.
If you experience any warning signs of depression, seek the advice of a medical professional right away.
The worry, exhaustion and demands of caring for a loved one with a serious illness put you at risk for depression. In fact, studies have shown that an estimated 46 to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed.
It’s critical to be aware of and sensitive to any changes in your mental and emotional well-being. If you experience any of the warning signs of depression – deep sadness, difficulty concentrating, apathy, hopelessness or thoughts about death – seek the advice of a medical professional right away.
As our area’s most trusted and experienced hospice and palliative care agency, it’s important to us that you, your loved one and your family have the physical, emotional and spiritual support you need.
The compassionate professionals of Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County can help to ease the challenges of caregiving by providing a wide range of services – from home care to medical equipment and supplies to respite care – for patients who qualify.
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