Caring for someone else can be an incredible gift to the caregiver, but it can also place a great deal of stress on your mind and body. Seeing someone that you love suffering mentally or in pain is difficult, and seeing their challenges on a day-in-day-out basis can add to your burden. Understanding the physical and emotional impact of giving long-term care to another human is the first step in ensuring that you adequately care for yourself. If you’re unable to take care of yourself, it will be that much more difficult for you to care for someone else. These tips will help keep caregivers healthy and reduce the overall stress that could be impacting their lives.
1. Recognize Signs of Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety have mental, emotional and physical components — and they can cause a very negative impact on our bodies. A little stress is good; it helps us move quickly out of the way of a speeding car or remove our hand from a hot element on the stove. Excessive stress can cause your muscles to bunch too tightly, your jaw to clench and your stomach to turn acidic. These negative reactions to stress can be detrimental to your health as much as a decade later, according to findings published in Psychological Science.
2. Forgive Yourself
There will be times when you will snap. You will say something that you don’t mean to your loved one. You may find yourself snipping at others while in line at the grocery store. You may even lash out at other friends or family members when they attempt to help. This is all perfectly normal, but it is a sign of excessive stress. When you’re having a moment that is not your proudest, it’s important to forgive yourself first. Recognize that you are human and that everyone has a breaking point. Pulling yourself back from that edge will allow you to continue to provide exceptional care for your loved one. It simply may be time to look for ways to take a breather once in a while.
3. Plan Ahead
There are many types of unexpected events that can happen when you are caring for someone else. Patients with Alzheimer’s may suddenly become violent with no warning, and individuals with other types of chronic disease can rapidly take a turn for the worse. While you don’t want to be stuck in a loop of negativity, planning ahead for potential scenarios will help you feel more mentally prepared if something does happen. Planning ahead can be as simple as allowing extra time to make a doctor’s appointment so you are not feeling rushed, or buying extra groceries and keeping additional medicines on hand to be sure you don’t run out of something critical.
4. Don’t Be Embarrassed to Ask for (and Accept!) Help
We are not superheroes. Seeing our loved ones in distress or hurting triggers a deep need to help them. However, helping your ailing friend or family member does not have to be a burden that you carry by yourself. Look to your close family for support and assistance, to your church and community and to any local support groups. You may find friendships in the most unlikely of places, and allow time for some self-care. You’ll return to your loved one feeling refreshed and with a more positive outlook.
5. Do Something Nice for Yourself
Along the same theme of self-care, it won’t hurt to take an afternoon once in a while and treat yourself. You are likely working hard to keep your loved one safe and secure. This could include lifting or other activities that are damaging to your personal health. An afternoon at the spa or getting a therapeutic massage helps reset your body. Buy yourself a special pillow or mattress pad to help get enough sleep. These small indulgences can make the difference between getting enough rest on a regular basis and introducing more anxiety into your life.
Helping others with personal tasks is one of the most selfless acts that we can perform as human beings. Understand the value of what you are doing and treat each day as a gift that you have to spend together. When you reduce your stress and anxiety levels with a little self-care, you and your loved one will benefit from the changes in perspective. Learn more about caring for older relatives on SeniorCaregiverAlliance.org, a community dedicated to those providing care for older loved ones.