Caregiving is rewarding but stressful. According to a 2015 study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute, many millions of adults around the world have provided unpaid care for another adult.
Because caregiving carries a unique set of challenges that can wreak havoc on your body, spirit, and mental health, treat yourself with kindness when feelings of anger, stress, frustration, and depression threaten to overwhelm you and cause burnout.
Those emotions are normal — and when you’re stressed, it’s important not to self-medicate with addictive substances but rather to take a step back. Breathe. Give yourself permission to step away and take care of yourself.
Signs it’s time to take a break to prevent burnout
If you find yourself experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be time to step away for a little while.
• Anxiety or depression
• Stomach issues, headaches, or other physical symptoms of stress
• Increased illnesses
• Using substances to self-medicate
Why self-care is essential
You might be an able-bodied “I’ve got it together” person who’s capable of doing it all. However, that doesn’t mean you should. There’s no shame in asking for help.
If you don’t ask for help when you need it, the following could very well occur instead:
• You may not be able to care for your loved one at all. When you neglect your own self-care, your health can diminish, leaving you unable to act as a caregiver.
• Your quality of life may decrease. You may also lose friends, especially if you’re part of the “sandwich generation,” where you’re raising a family and taking care of an older parent and hence have little time to spare.
• You might not live as long. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who experience caregiver stress and strain are 63% more likely to die prematurely than non-caregivers.
Give yourself permission to be selfish
Has it been so long since you thought about yourself that you’re not sure where to start? Feeling guilty about spending too much time on self-care? These ideas may help.
1. Take regular breaks. Whether you’re spending the majority of a day caring for someone else or working a full-time job and then assuming caregiving duties in the evening, take breaks throughout the day and evening.
2. Stay active. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of activity three or more times a week. Hit the gym for a spin class. Schedule an evening “walk date” with your partner, neighbour, or friends. Want something a little more low-key to help you relax? Try yoga or tai chi.
3. Eat well. It’s so tempting to grab and live on fast food when you’re rushing from one place to the next. But healthy, nutritious food keeps your energy up, boosts your immune system, and helps maintain a healthy weight.
4. Sleep. Don’t skip sleep because it’s critical to feeling well physically, mentally, and emotionally. Create a sleep routine that works for you; if you’re feeling cramped on time, claim the hour or 30 minutes before you sleep as yours for a warm bath, a cup of tea, meditation, or a good book.
5. Stay connected to friends. Laughter is the best medicine — it’s cliche, but true. And sometimes, it’s all that keeps you from crying. Reach out to your tribe and build your network. Even if it’s a flurry of funny texts or a running conversation on Facebook Messenger, it’s a connection to the outside world that keeps you from feeling isolated.
6. Take time off. Don’t feel guilty about asking for help. That includes connecting with an agency that provides respite care or coordinating and sharing caregiving duties with other family members, trusted friends, or members of your church community, for example. Time away to do something you love gives you an opportunity to recharge and refresh your whole self.
This article was written by Andrew Mastrandonas, Co-founder and CEO of Pillar (www.pillarcare.com) and reviewed by Dr Lim Geng Yan (M.D). Pillar provides a range of elderly home caregiving services, sending trained and certified professional caregivers and nurses to clients’ homes. For more information please visit https://care.pillarcare.com/fmtpromo