If you are among the 1 in 3 adults in the US who provide care as an informal caregiver, you know how difficult juggling daily life and your responsibilities as a caregiver can be. This includes anybody who provides care to someone in need, such as an elderly relative, an ill partner, or a disabled child. While putting your loved one first oftentimes feels like the right choice, prioritizing your own health is just as important. Taking time to focus on your happiness and health will allow you to be the best caregiver possible. In this guide, we will cover general caregiving tips, how to identify caregiver stress, and ideas for caregivers to practice self-care.
Becoming the primary caregiver of a loved one, can impact your family’s routine, put a strain on relationships, and be exhausting. While caregiving is difficult, especially if it is sprung on you unexpectedly, the experience can be rewarding when stress is managed properly. To help you deal with the pressure, we’ve put together a list of general tips family caregivers can use to reduce stress and make life easier for you and your loved one.
Learning about the disease your loved one has is essential in preparing to take on the role of a caregiver. You’ll save yourself time and frustration by not having to guess about the best methods of care. For example, those with dementia often do better when their tasks are broken up into easy-to-comprehend steps. Getting informed about medication, dietary, and lifestyle needs will make your job easier in the long run. Creating a relationship with your loved one’s doctor, using online resources, and reading books about the condition can all be great resources.
Once you’re well-educated on your loved one’s condition, you need to get yourself organized. Having a good methodology for caregiving will reduce your stress and help you prepare for any situation. If your loved one needs multiple medications or treatments, a precise schedule and clearly labeled supplies will help you stay on top of their needs. It’s important to have information like doctors’ numbers and medical records easily accessible in case of an emergency. If you share responsibilities with at-home nurses or family members, work with them to make a comprehensive schedule and a list of important contacts.
Tracking all medical, financial, and legal paperwork is also important. Keeping information organized as you receive it instead of frantically searching through it all later is one easy way to stay organized. To be best prepared, we recommend sitting down to give some thought to what legal and financial issues might arise from your loved one’s situation. This includes organizing medical bills, insurance information, wills, and more. While some subjects are difficult to talk about, it’s better than being unprepared later. You can speak to social workers, lawyers, and caregiver organizations for expert insight.
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Even if you feel like it’s your job to take care of everything, remember that your friends and family want to help relieve some of your stress but oftentimes don’t know how to. Reach out to your community and be honest about what you need. Sometimes you need a night to yourself, so ask a relative to fill in for a few hours to give you a little break. Going for a walk, going out to dinner, or getting to exercise can greatly reduce your stress levels. The people in your life can be an outstanding resource during this time. Even if you just need someone to talk to, small changes in your schedule can help break up the routine. Whether you need help with cooking, shopping, or picking up the kids from practice, small chores add up, and a little bit of help can go a long way.
Connecting with other caregivers is a great way to feel less isolated. One advantage of networking with other caregivers is that they understand exactly what you’re going through. While friends and family might be your go-to for assistance, support groups can be validating, helpful, and reaffirm that you are not alone. Local caregivers are great for exchanging tips and advice, from general healthy habits to specific resources you might not know about. If there aren’t local organizations in your area or you don’t have the time to go to one, there are countless support resources for caregivers online.
Give Yourself Credit
Never forget to acknowledge the selflessness that goes into caring for another person. It’s easy to get so caught up in your daily obligations that you forget to give yourself the credit you deserve. Not everyone can handle the stress and responsibility that comes with being a caregiver. Your loved one depends on you and appreciates your effort even if they don’t (or can’t) say it out loud. Even if you’ve had a bad day, never forget, no caregiver is perfect; be patient and compassionate with yourself.
Identifying Caregiver Stress
There’s no denying that taking on the role of a caregiver can be daunting. This is especially true for those caring for loved ones with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The extra stress put on a caregiver can have adverse effects, so it’s best to identify signs of caregiver stress before they develop into more significant issues. To help you identify these signs, we’ve outlined some key characteristics below.
- Constant worry and anxiety: Being the primary caregiver for a loved one can often make you feel anxious. While a caregiver should be concerned for the person they’re looking after, constant anxiety isn’t healthy. If anxious thoughts are always at the forefront of your mind, seeking professional help may be helpful. A professional can help you work past anxious thoughts before they start making a lasting impact on your mental health.
- Trouble sleeping: There are many different forms of sleep issues. Trouble falling asleep, oversleeping, fatigue, and restlessness are signs of disrupted sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to cognitive problems and will impair your ability to give the best care. Resolving the stress that is causing your sleep problems will be beneficial to both you and your loved one.
- Social withdrawal: Losing interest in hobbies or other activities is a common sign of mental health disorders like depression or anxiety. Dealing with a mental health disorder is hard enough, but trying to cope with a new disorder while being a caregiver is bound to cause burnout. Check-in on your mental health by seeking professional help if you notice yourself avoiding social activities that you once enjoyed.
- Frequent physical problems: Listen to your body, it knows when it needs a break. Health problems like headaches, body fatigue, and other issues can be signs that your body is being overworked. These aren’t obstacles to work through, but instead, they are signs that you need to slow down and pay attention to your body’s needs.
Now that we’ve discussed ways to identify caregiver stress, it’s time to explore ways to take care of yourself. As a caregiver, you likely aren’t prioritizing your health. To help caregivers put their well-being first, we have put together affordable self-care ideas caregivers can use to combat stress and avoid burnout.
Talk to a Friend
Some caregivers might unintentionally isolate themselves from friends due to their busy schedules. While it can be hard to maintain friendships, it’s important for your mental health to stay connected to the people you care about. Friendships can boost your happiness, help you cope, and give you a good laugh when you need it. Having a distraction from your responsibilities can help keep your mind from getting too overworked.
Meditation and yoga can reduce the risk of mood disorders and relieve stress. Incorporating movement and breathing practices into your daily routine can vastly improve your mental well-being. If you’re starting to feel cooped up at home, you can try taking a meditation or yoga class. Many studios offer free classes for first-time students or if classes do not fit into your schedule, there are many apps and online resources available for caregivers to practice in their home.
Have a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Getting the proper amount of sleep is essential to your physical and mental health. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep each night. If you start to experience sleep issues due to stress, there are things you can do before bed to help you fall and stay asleep. Reducing the amount of blue light you’re exposed to before bed and focusing on lighter activities that help you wind down can improve sleep health. Watching television or scrolling on your phone within an hour before bed can harm your quality of sleep. Reading, yoga, or taking a shower can help your body relax before bed.
Take a Bath
Taking a bath can give you the alone time your body is craving. Adding bubbles or essential oils to your bath can take relaxation to the next level. Running a bath is perfect for a little alone time without spending money or being too far away from the house. This can also be added to your bedtime routine; relaxing in hot water will lower your body temperature and prepare you for a good night’s sleep.
There’s a reason people say, “get some fresh air” when someone is stressed or anxious. Being outside has tons of health benefits, and spending time outside every day is an easy way to take care of yourself. Sunlight can improve your mental health, reduce stress levels, and improve your physical health. Taking a walk or running around the neighborhood is a great activity to add to your schedule.
Do What Makes You Happy
Sometimes being a caregiver means dedicating less time to things you enjoy. However, that does not mean you should just give up on them entirely. Make time in your schedule for the things you love. Giving yourself even an hour a week to do something you love can have a big impact on your mental health. Allowing your hobbies and passions to fall to the waste side can subconsciously make you feel worse, which isn’t what you or your loved one wants. Take care of yourself!
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