As the population ages, caregiving is being provided more and more by people other than healthcare professionals such as family members or other close friends. Often, these family members or friends do not refer to themselves as a formal “caregiver” and therefore do not think about the support they also need in this role.
A lot of time and energy goes into caregiving, which may lead to a caregiver to neglect their own needs. Making time for self-care can be a challenge for many caregivers. If you are a caregiver, it is essential to preserve your health and well-being. Caring for a loved one can put a strain on even the most resilient people.
A Caregiver Defined
A caregiver is someone who provides basic care to someone that has a chronic medical condition, an illness that lasts for a long time or doesn’t go away.
Examples of some chronic conditions include:
- Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia
- Any cancer
- The after-effects of a stroke or injury
- Multiple sclerosis
The caregiver helps the person with many tasks such as meal preparation, eating, shopping, cleaning, administering medicine, bathing, and dressing. Above all, two of the most important things a caregiver provides is companionship and emotional support.
Being a Caregiver Can Be Rewarding Yet Also Stressful
Many caregivers are friends or family members of the person who needs care. Some grown adults feel an innate responsibility to care for their aging parents and often cherish this time as a caregiver. Their parent provided for them, and now this is their opportunity to return the blessing. It can bring a sense of joy and fulfillment, yet it can also pose significant challenges.
But a shift in roles and emotions is almost certain. It is natural to feel exhausted, frustrated, angry, or alone. The emotional and physical stress of caregiving is common and referred to as caregiver stress.
People who experience caregiver stress can be vulnerable to changes in their own health. Risk factors for caregiver stress include:
- Living with the person you are caring for
- A higher number of hours spent caregiving
- Lack of choice in being a caregiver
- Having fewer years of formal education
- Social isolation
- Having depression
- Financial difficulties
- Lack of coping skills
Caring for a loved one who is seriously ill is never easy. You are often “on-call” almost all the time and feel your own free time is gone. It may be hard for you to juggle the different parts of your life, such as work, chores, and caring for the ill person.
Caregiving is also hard because you will be the one that sees changes in your loved one and find it difficult to see them the same way you did before they became ill. For example, if you are the caregiver for someone that develops Alzheimer’s, they may not recognize you at times, develop behavioral problems, or begin to suffer from incontinence. Alzheimer’s and incontinence can add an additional level of caregiving that can be very difficult to manage.
Common Signs of Caregiver Stress
Signs of caregiver stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or helpless
- Irritability or anxiety
- Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
- Gaining or losing weight
- Social withdrawal
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Unhealthy behaviors such as abusing alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications
Too much stress over a long period as a caregiver can harm your health, which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. If you think you are suffering from caregiver stress, call your doctor. They can help you manage your feelings and stress with various tools such as stress management techniques, counseling, or medicine.
Tips for Dealing With Caregiver Stress
Caregiving can be stressful, complicated, and time-consuming, so it is vital to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.
Some ways to help manage caregiver stress include:
- Accept help. If a friend offers to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week, run an errand for you, or cook, take them up on it.
- Believe you are doing your best. No one is perfect and it is ok to feel guilty sometimes. Focus on knowing that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you are able to.
- Set realistic goals. Make lists and a daily routine. By breaking up large tasks into smaller ones, you will feel a better sense of accomplishment.
- Look for resources. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing or offer caregiving services such as transportation and meal delivery.
- Join a support group. People in support groups understand what you may be going through and can provide validation and encouragement. Friendships can also be created in support groups that can provide meaningful connections when you may be feeling alone.
- Practice self-care. Find time for physical activity, eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids, and set goals for a good sleep routine. Many caregivers have issues with sleeping and not getting quality sleep over a long period can lead to health issues.
- Schedule your routine doctor visits. It is essential to get recommended vaccinations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver and don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have. No one should ever have to suffer in silence.
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