I’m a caregiver, how do I take care of myself?
November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to celebrate our caregivers and recognize the important role they play in the lives of those recovering from a mental illness. Care giving is hard work and sometimes your mental and physical health may suffer. When on an airplane, we are told that in the case of an emergency, we are to place our oxygen mask on first before assisting someone else. Being a caregiver is no different.
The prolonged stress and the physical and mental demands of being a caregiver can place you at risk for significant health problems such as:
- Sleep deprivation
- Poor eating habits
- Failure to exercise
- Failure to rest when ill
- Postponing or failing to make medical appointments for themselves
- Increased risk for substance use
How do I take care of myself?
As a caregiver, taking responsibility for your well-being is not selfish, it is a vital part of managing your health, and the health of your loved one. Once you decide to make yourself a priority, there are many effective ways to manage self-care.
Reduce stress. We all have everyday stress, but as a caregiver, your stress is not only due to the ongoing situation, but also your perception of it. You may feel you had no choice in taking on the added responsibilities and how you have coped with stress in the past will play in a role in your ability to manage your stress levels. There are a few steps you can take to help manage the stress:
- Recognize the warning signs, such as irritability, sleep problems, or forgetfulness. Don’t wait until you feel overwhelmed, act early to make changes.
- Identify why you are stressed. Is it because you have too much on your plate, relationship issues, the inability to say no, or feeling inadequate in your role? Knowing why your stressed will help you determine what you need to change.
- Identify what you can and cannot change. Trying to change things that are out of your control, will only increase your stress and anxiety. Ask yourself, “What can I change?” Even the smallest change can make a difference.
- Once you know why you are stressed and you know what you can and cannot change, act to reduce your stress and give yourself back a sense of control. It may be making time each day for a simple activity like walking, gardening, meditation, or spending some quality time talking to someone about how you are feeling. Identify what works for you.
Quite your mind. Relaxation exercises such as meditation and mindfulness can greatly improve your state of mind. Studies show that meditation and deep breathing exercises can help you to feel calm and reduce anxiety.
Get physical. Research shows that everyday physical activities can help you maintain and restore endurance, balance, strength, and flexibility through everyday physical activities such as walking or even gardening. Additionally, incorporating a short amount of physical activity into your day can promote better sleep, reduce tension and depression, and increase energy.
Learn from your emotions. Your emotions exist for a reason; even negative ones. Your emotions are useful tools in understanding what is happening to you. As a caregiver, you have a wide range of emotions. Feelings such as guilt, anger, and resentment may be overshadowing your pleasure and leading you into depression. Recognizing your emotional health will help you act to improve your mental health.
Ask for and accept help. As a caregiver when someone asks if they can help, you may often reply, “No thank you, I am fine.” However, that really may not be true. You may not want to admit that you need help, or you may not want to burden someone else. Asking for and accepting help is a vital part of self-care. Make a mental list of ways others can help you. Can someone sit with your loved one for 20-minutes while you take a short walk outside? Could they pick up a few things for you at the grocery store? Don’t wait until you are overwhelmed and exhausted, asking for and accepting help is a sign of personal strength. People do want to help, but it is up to you to tell them how.
There are times when you may become overwhelmed and need additional help from a professional. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not a weakness. It is important to remember that treatment, such as that at Pasadena Villa, is effective and can help you develop the coping skills needed to live a fulfilling life. Our team of professionals provides evidence-based treatment for adults suffering from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Please call us today or complete our contact form for more information about our levels of care and programming.