Being a caregiver is not easy. It can be both very rewarding and very stressful, all at the same time. In fact, some doctors have referred to caregivers as the “hidden patient.”
One study found that as many as 1 in 3 caregivers rate their stress level as very high, and half say they now spend less time with family and friends. Caregivers also report feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, sad and even angry. Many put their own needs aside to care for their loved one.
Does this sound like you?
If so, what you and many other caregivers need to remember is: you may not be able to care for anyone if you don’t first care for yourself. Watch for caregiver stress signs and know how to manage the stress before your own health is in jeopardy.
Signs of caregiver stress:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
Managing caregiver stress:
- Accept help. Prepare a list of ways others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do from your list.
- Give yourself a break. It's normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a perfect caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can.
- Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine. Say “no” when tasks become unrealistic.
- Get connected. Check out caregiving resources, such as at-home health care services, respite care and senior living community options for your loved one and support groups for you.
- Maintain friendships. Stay connected with friends who can offer emotional support and an opportunity to take a break from being a caregiver. Set aside time each week for a cup of coffee or a walk together. Social interaction outside of caregiving duties is important for your overall well-being.
- Make your physical health a priority. Stick to a good sleep routine, make time for physical fitness and fuel your body with healthy foods and plenty of water.