Being a family caregiver is far from easy, even if you’ve been doing it for a long time. Whether it’s for a loved one who is fighting an illness or one who is struggling with a disability, it can take its toll on your mental, physical and emotional health.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, nearly 31 percent of households within the U.S. are affected by caregiving responsibilities. Many caregivers report they have difficulty finding time to themselves, have trouble managing their emotional and physical stress and have trouble balancing their work and family responsibilities, which can all, inevitably, lead to burnout.
With all that in mind, it’s important to understand how to find new strength as a family caregiver so you can persevere for your loved one while also not forsaking your own health and well-being. Here are some of the things you should start doing if you aren’t doing them already.
Find a Group of Caregivers
Other family caregivers will be able to understand what you’re feeling and going through. They can offer you encouragement and advice as you need it and remind you that you’re not alone. Here’s a resource that offer support groups you can join: Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center.
If you can’t find a caregiver support group in your community and you’re up to the task, create your own. These groups can be a great help to caregivers. There’s nothing like having someone to talk to who knows exactly what you’re dealing with.
Understand Your Limits
Often when you feel yourself burning out it’s because you don’t understand your limits. You can only do so much. Don’t push yourself beyond what you can handle.
Once you figure out what your limits are (how much you can do in a week, when you need to take time to rest, what you can’t do, etc.), communicate those limits to the doctors, family members and anyone else involved.
Additionally, a part of these limits include knowing when you need professional care for your loved one.
Deal with Your Feelings
Caregivers often deal with a wide range of emotions. You need to acknowledge what your feelings are and learn how to deal with them. Experiencing difficult emotions does not mean that you don’t genuinely love the family member you’re caring for; it just means you’re human.
To deal with your feelings, start a journal or talk to someone about them. Don’t keep them bottled up inside of you, waiting for them to explode.
Let Your Family and Friends Help You
Another cause of burnout is trying to do everything yourself. Don’t try to do it all on your own. Let your family and friends help you. You’ll need their help and help from health professionals at times.
To do this, make a list of everything you need to do to take care of your loved one. Then, think about what you can’t do and what you could delegate to a family member or friend. Ask them if they could help you with some of the responsibilities on your list. It may be hard to get up the courage to ask for help, but you may be pleasantly surprised at the responses you’ll get. Most of the time your loved ones want to help you, they just don’t know what they can do.
Pay Attention to Your Own Needs
Give yourself time to rest and do something for you! You need to rest and refresh, but you can’t do that if you never give yourself a break. Reaching out to friends and family can help give you the break you need to do something for you. Go shopping, sit and read, spend time with a friend, go out and garden, see a movie, etc. Figure out what would most refresh you and do that. If you don’t take care of yourself—both mentally, emotionally and physically—you won’t be able to care for another person.
Apart from these times you get a brief break from your responsibilities, make sure you’re taking care of yourself, daily. Make sure you’re exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, eating right, avoiding alcohol, seeing your health professional to check on your own health and seeing a counselor if you find yourself struggling with depression.
Many caregivers experience depression at some point throughout the course of their caregiving. It’s important to deal with those feelings and talk to your doctor or a counselor about them.
Don’t Give Up
Being a caregiver requires a lot of sacrifices, but your service is appreciated more than you realize. Where would they be without you? They need your support and continual care.
What has been one of your biggest challenges as a family caregiver? Are there people in your life you can turn to for help?