On an airplane, an oxygen mask descends in front of you. What do you do? As we all know, the first rule is to put on our own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else. Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. Caring for yourself is one of the most important – and one of the most forgotten – things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit.
Providing care to someone who needs your assistance can be very rewarding. However, it can also be taxing, and caregiver stress is common. Caregiver stress is the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. Individuals who experience the most caregiver stress are the most vulnerable to a decline in their own health. If you don’t take care of yourself and stay well, you won’t be able to help anyone else.
Some of the common signs of caregiver stress include the following:
– Feeling sad or moody
– Having low energy level
– Feeling like you don’t have any time to yourself
– Seeing your friends or relatives less often than you used to
– Losing interest in your hobbies or the things you used to do with friends or family
– Having trouble sleeping, or not wanting to get out of bed in the morning
– Becoming easily irritated or angered
The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can strain even the most capable person. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of available help and support. These tips have helped others deal with caregiver stress:
– Geriatric care management. Geriatric care managers specialize in aging related issues. They can help families by assessing their needs and identifying the best services available to meet those needs. This could include information on respite care, help in the home, connections to community resources, financial management, advocacy, living arrangements and support groups.
– Contact your local Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) for information on resources in your area.
– Accept help. Prepare a list of ways others can help you, and let the helper choose what they would like to do. One person might offer to grocery shop and another might take your loved one for a walk.
– Stay connected. Make an effort to stay in touch with family and friends. Set aside time each week to socialize, even if it’s just for a walk. Whenever possible, make plans to get out of the house.
– Commit to staying healthy. Find time to be physically active and don’t neglect your need for sleep. See your doctor and tell him or her that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you might have.
– Avoid feeling guilty. Feeling guilty is normal, but no one is a “perfect” caregiver. You’re doing the best you can at any given time. Don’t feel guilty about asking for help.
If you are like many caregivers, you have a hard time asking for help and feeling like you have to do everything yourself. Unfortunately, this attitude can lead to feeling isolated, frustrated and even depressed. Don’t make that mistake. Take advantage of the many resources and tools available. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.
Preceptor Health Care
Director of Hospice Operations