Being a family caregiver is one of life’s most stressful experiences. Caregivers are so focused on providing care, they often don't realize the toll it takes on their own health and well-being.
Any ongoing stress can be harmful to a person’s physical and mental health. A caregiver may also suffer from poor sleeping habits and neglect their own dietary needs. Even the most resilient and dedicated caregiver needs the opportunity to de-stress, have personal time and maintain a life outside of their caregiving responsibilities.
Signs of caregiver stress:
- Headaches, nausea, lingering illnesses (a cold you can’t shake), extreme changes in weight or other physical symptoms
- Experiencing anxiety or depression
- Forgetfulness or feeling “spaced out”
- Feeling overwhelmed and without support
- Becoming short tempered or crying easily
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Losing touch with friends, becoming isolated
Coping with caregiver stress
Self-care isn't selfish. If you are rundown, exhausted, ill or angry, you will not be able to provide care for others. It's important to allow yourself the time to take care of your own life, your own health and just to relax and enjoy yourself.
While you may feel as though you are the only one up to the task, chances are there are responsibilities you can delegate to others. Reach out to family, the client’s support network or professional caregivers. You don’t need to cook, clean, handle medications, drive to appointments and cut the grass. Ask for help.
Other stress-busting strategies include:
- Join a caregiver support group
- Make time for physical exercise, even if it’s just walking around the block a few times a day
- Have lunch with a friend and catch up face-to-face
- Spend quiet time reading or watching favorite movies with your loved one
- Tell your doctor you are a caregiver so they can help you cope with the mental and physical strain
- Consult with a professional home health care agency about overnight care, daily checks and respite