Caring for an elderly or ill loved one is incredibly important work and can be highly rewarding. However, it can also add to the normal pressures and demands of life and really take a toll on caregivers. Very often, caregivers are so focused on helping others that they forget to-or don't prioritize-taking care of themselves. This constant strain can lead to symptoms of stress and burnout, including:
Increased anxiety, irritability, resentment, and/or depression
- Decline in levels of enjoyment, energy, and hopefulness
- Interpersonal problems
- Disruption of normal sleep, eating and other patterns
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems and muscle tension
One of the first steps in managing stress related to caregiving is to give yourself permission to feel all that you're feeling. There's no such thing as a "right" or "wrong" way to feel, and it's common to experience a wide range of emotions, including resentment, anger, and fear.
Acknowledging these feelings makes it easier to manage them.
In order to keep stress levels controllable and avoid burnout, it's also critical that you take care of yourself with the same intensity you do for the person you're caring for. Though it may be challenging at first to factor your own self-care in more, it's really vital. On airplanes, we're reminded to put on our own oxygen mask before attempting to help others. The same concept applies to caregiving - it involves focusing on your own physical and emotional well-being in a number of ways, such as:
- Getting sufficient sleep
- Eating a healthy diet
- Prioritizing regular exercising
- Having periodic health checkups
- Making time for yourself and your own needs each day
- Practicing self-compassion and positive self-talk
- Talking to supportive people
It may be helpful to actually slot in time for your own self-care, just like you would doctors' appointments or other important events. Be sure to give yourself credit for all that you're doing, and remember that support is available-consider joining a caregiver support group, or talk to a trusted friend or helping professional. Above all, make room for your own physical and emotional needs-the more you help yourself, the more helpful you'll be to others.