17 May Caring for the Caregiver
Being a caregiver to a loved one accompanies a range of feelings and emotions that can put the caregiver at risk for stress. When a caregiver experiences stress but does not take the steps necessary to manage it, they can put their health and emotional well being in jeopardy. When self-care does not happen, the ability to assist a loved one is diminished despite the desire to provide exceptional care.
Many caregivers are hesitant to ask for help when their levels of stress become difficult to manage. Yet this reluctance can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. The tools we have to combat these symptoms, such as getting enough sleep, physical activity and eating a balanced diet, often are relegated to the least important tasks to accomplish. When this occurs, a caregiver’s risk of medical problems such as heart disease and depression increase.
When a shift in roles occurs, it is almost always associated with emotions that assume a different quality. While feelings of love and loyalty may dominate, it is not unusual to also experience isolation, frustration and short temperedness. It is essential to recognize these symptoms and take steps to manage them by taking advantage of the many resources available to caregivers such as support groups. These groups can provide valuable insights into practical information as well as vital topics such as health care, self care and maintaining balance in daily life.
Burnout is another risk to caregiving management. Stress symptoms are an indicator that balance needs to be achieved when personal limits are being ignored and pushing the caregiver farther than they are able to manage. Indicators such as exhaustion, weight gain or loss, tearfulness and guilt are signs that it is time to allow trusted others to step in and help with the burdens of being responsible for another dependent person.
Getting What You Give
Sometimes slowing down and accepting help is difficult for individuals, because on an unconscious level caregivers may feel they are giving what they will get in the future. This drives them to focus their attention solely on the care of the loved one while forgoing proper care for themselves. This focus can make caregivers vulnerable to changes in their own lives and health that need attention. Ignoring such care can put them at risk for financial trouble, alcohol or drug abuse, headaches, bodily pain and general depression.
To prevent this, there are several steps that can be taken. This includes evaluating what care you are able to provide and accepting help with what you cannot. Setting realistic goals with the help of prioritizing tasks and breaking them into smaller action steps can help combat a feeling of being overwhelmed, as will making lists and establishing a daily routine. Staying connected to family and friends as well as supports groups may help maintain a much needed equilibrium through empathizing with others. Last but not least, establishing personal health goals and making those a priority will help your physical well being as well as your emotional attitude.
There are numerous factors involved in taking on the care of a loved one. Many times the changes involved cannot be controlled, leading to a feeling of helplessness. The right of an individual to enjoy the highest quality of life possible is absolute, and this applies to both the caregiver as well as the individual who receives care. Changes in lifestyle can lead to grief and stress for all those involved, yet assistance to the patient and family can help all involved navigate this process.