Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s or a family member with a disability sometimes isn’t always a choice. Often caregivers simply step up to fill a need — usually not even realizing the amount of stress and responsibility they are taking on. Being a caregiver can be extremely an rewarding and positive experience, but it can also be a pretty tough one, too.
Unfortunately, the burden of caregiving can cause negative effects, all of which have an adverse impact on a your health and well-being. You might experience guilt, frustration and exhaustion, resulting in emotional strain, like depression and anxiety, as well as physical duress, such as chronic pain or even a heart attack. That’s why it’s critical that, as a caregiver, you make self-care a priority. After all, you can’t be a good caregiver for others if you don’t take care of yourself, as well.
First, it’s important to recognize the signs that you might be weighed down by overwhelming stress. Some signs include:
- Quick to anger that lingers
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Alarming bouts of worry and anxiety
- Feeling that you are alone or that family and friends do not empathize
- Debilitating fatigue
Before the feelings of guilt set in, remember that you are not alone and these disturbing feelings aren’t your fault. One of the best ways to reduce stress is to identify what it is you need to feel relief — what you’re missing — and make more time for it. Even if it’s one simple addition, like taking one yoga class a week or going on a run or a walk before your caregiving duties start. Spending quality time with loved ones, especially pets, can also reduce stress. Many studies show that spending time with Fido can reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
Some other ways to manage stress include asking for help, relaxation and breathing techniques, focusing on goals you can achieve and letting go of what you can’t.
Managing Physical Pain
The burden of caregiving doesn’t just upset your emotional well-being, but your physical health, as well. In the U.S., caregiving is considered a major public health issue — it’s not uncommon or even unusual for caregivers to start developing physical symptoms from their responsibilities. The stress can cause high blood pressure, appetite issues and weakened immune systems.
addition, the long hours and physical demands can bring on chronic pain, acid reflux, frequent infections and slower wound healing.
How can you manage the physical pain? First, if you can take a break to focus on your health, you really should. Ask a family member to step in or consider hiring part-time help while you get your own physical well-being back on track. If that’s not an option, see your doctor. Some of these issues can significantly impact your future health if not dealt with now.
Self-care isn’t a one-time action. It’s also not going to cause a complete turnaround of your condition overnight. It’s a lifestyle choice, one where you have to commit yourself and practice daily. Changing the balance of your responsibilities can help. If you’re working full-time and caregiving, consider dropping down to part-time hours or hiring a part-time caregiver help. If you have a dog at home who has been cooped up all day, hire a dog walker to mitigate the guilt you feel by not being around as much as you’d like. If housework has been piling up, consider bringing on a housekeeper, even if only once or twice a month. You can also join a grocery delivery service to reduce the burden of grocery shopping. Asking your friends and family to step in isn’t a sign of weakness or vulnerability — it’s a smart sign of self-care.
Ultimately, the more you can do to prevent mental, emotional and physical burnout, the more you’ll enjoy your time as a caregiver. Watching the health of another person decline is never easy, but you can alleviate these negative effects by really focusing on self-care.
Lydia Chan, Alzheimerscaregiver.net