Caregiver stress: Don't forget self-care

Family caregivers often try to do everything themselves. But to be a good caregiver, you must first take good care of yourself.

By Jamie L. Friend

Maybe you take care of your spouse, who's in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Or you've been tending to the needs of your mother since she was diagnosed with cancer. Perhaps your child was born with a lifelong condition requiring specialized care.

Whatever the circumstances, family caregivers tend to have at least one thing in common: They forget to take care of themselves.

While caring for those you love is important, and can be meaningful, caregiving is stressful work. It can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally. If you don't take good care of yourself, you won't have the energy to care for others.

Caregiver burnout

Extended periods of providing care and support for a loved one can affect you in many ways, including:

  • Sleeplessness. Stress, anxiety or medical needs from your loved one in the middle of the night can make it difficult to get a good night's rest.
  • Reduced ability to concentrate. With so many tasks and responsibilities to manage you may find it difficult to concentrate. Brain fog makes every task more difficult.
  • Mood swings. You may have minor changes in mood. You feel angry one minute and then sad and helpless moments later. Irritability also is common.
  • Depression. Many caregivers feel alone, isolated and overwhelmed.
  • Weakened immune system. Stressed caregivers are more likely to catch whatever cold or flu virus that's going around.

Enlist more helpers

Not sure how to lighten your load? When people ask what they can do to help you, have a list ready. While many caregiving tasks might be things you want to do yourself, there are plenty of chores that other people could take over, such as:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Yardwork
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Taking the person to their next medical appointment

Sometimes it can be difficult to accept help. Try to remember that helping others makes people feel good. When you are willing to accept help from friends and family, you're actually giving them an opportunity to feel good about themselves.

Even just having someone sit with your family member while you take a break can give you some time to recharge. Many communities have elder care or respite services, which can give you some time for yourself.

Many caregivers provide care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you can find respite and attend yoga class three times a week, that can have a positive impact on your health and wellness.

July 08, 2017 See more In-depth