While taking care of a loved one can be a rewarding and personal growth experience, it can also be a difficult and stressful period for the caregiver. If you are a caregiver for an older parent, a spouse with dementia or a disabling illness, or a loved one with disabilities, you may find yourself giving so much you are neglecting your own physical and emotional well-being. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms of being “over-stressed,” you may be putting your own health at risk:
*Are you suffering from lack of sleep or inability to fall asleep due to worry and concern?
*Are you feeling anxious and nervous on a regular basis, wondering how you will meet the challenges of caregiving?
*Are you feeling depressed or overwhelmed with feelings of inability to cope?
*Are you withdrawing from regular activities, social interaction, or relationships that have been pleasurable?
*Are you feeling angry or irritable at your loved one or others?
*Are you experiencing a lack of concentration or the ability to focus on regular tasks and activities?
*Are you feeling exhausted and weary and unable to do regular tasks?
*Are you experiencing health problems, change in appetite, illness or prone to more sickness than is typical?
If a caregiver is experiencing these warning signs, it is important to acknowledge stress and begin taking steps to improve the situation. The first step may be to see a physician and talk over the warning signs and current life circumstances. In addition to seeing a doctor, consider making some healthy life changes:
Start by taking care of yourself. It is common for a caregiver to give all he she can to the loved one in need and put off his or her own needs. This contributes to stress and burnout. Eat well, get exercise, sleep and take time out for yourself. Visit with friends and go for a walk. Find substitute and respite caregivers who can step in so you can get some needed rest and
Educate yourself about what is available in your community. Check into adult day care, recreational activities, support groups, and other services that could make your workload lighter and provide respite and support.
Let go of guilt, unreasonable expectations and ideas of perfection. Caring for a loved one is as challenging as it is rewarding and there is no such thing as a perfect or ideal caregiver. We all lose patience, feel overwhelmed and run out
of creative ideas and energy. If you can accept that you are doing the best you can and let go of feelings of inadequacy and guilt, it will help ease stress.
Ask for help from other family members, friends, and community resources. It is often difficult for us to admit that we are overwhelmed and need “back-up.” If it is difficult for you to ask for help, perhaps someone can ask for you. Try
not to turn down help when it is offered.
If you are a caregiver, or are aware of a friend or family member who is caring for another, be aware that stress and feelings of being overwhelmed are very real and very common. Self care is imperative, as is involving your physician and
reaching out for help and support. We can’t do everything, but we should feel good about what we can do and taking care of ourselves is as important as taking care of others.