Caregiving is a noble act, but while selflessly providing care for a loved one, caregivers can go through a lot which is why their mental health shouldn’t be neglected.
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As beautifully quoted by Rosalyn Carter, “There are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers”. Undoubtedly so, caregiving is an integral part of life. Taking on the role of a caregiver for your loved ones can be immensely fulfilling and meaningful. However, just like anything hard-earned, it is not an easy path to take.
Years of caregiving can be filled with highs and lows. The cherishable moments you share with your loved ones may develop deep and special bonds. But in doing so, you would be taking on their burdens, problems and worries, which may result in feelings of stress and guilt especially if your loved one doesn't get better despite your best efforts. If you feel you're not doing enough, you're not alone. It is important to realise these feelings of guilt and stress may not arise from not doing enough, but conversely from overworking and feeling excessively accountable without keeping stress and burnout at bay.
It's easy to forget about your own well-being when giving your utmost love and support to a loved one. However, if you want to provide the best care for your loved one, they need you to be your best self. This means ensuring that you're at the pink of health both mentally and physically, by watching out for signs of caregiver stress and burnout.
Signs you need a break
Caregiver stress isn't always obvious. The smiles and appreciation you receive along with a sense of duty can do a good job masking clear signs that indicate impending burnout. Watch out for signs of stress like depression, feeling tired, having difficulty sleeping and any new or deteriorating health problems. Signs you're burned out include having low energy levels, little to no self-care and not finding time for yourself. If your whole life revolves around caring for your loved one and you feel like caregiving is becoming a heavy burden then you might need to re-evaluate your approach.
Feel empowered and focus on the things you can control
Trapping yourself in a vicious cycle of feeling accountable for matters in life that are out of your control may make you feel powerless, preventing you from thinking of sound solutions to make the lives of both you and your loved ones better. Focus on the things you have control over and give yourself credit for doing your best!
Ask for caregiving help
As much as we may be heroes to our loved ones, we have our limits. Try asking for help with caregiving from a friend or family member if you need time to recharge. Ask a friend to take your loved one on a walk while you take a break. Asking for a simple favour from your friends such as helping you cook a meal and completing a simple chore so that you can unwind every once in a while could do heaps for your self-care and well-being. So don't be afraid to ask!
Accept your caregiving and applaud yourself
Realize that caring for your helpless loved one is a noble choice that you made and should embrace and feel proud of. This can stop you from feeling any self-resentment while providing extra motivation for taking care of your loved one. Along the way, make sure you celebrate the small wins!
Talk to a supportive and appreciative friend or family member
Try talking to someone who understands and appreciates the great lengths and sacrifices required to adopt such a selfless role. Connecting with someone who went through a similar situation can help you vent and de-stress. It may also drive you towards a new perspective along your caregiving journey.
Take breaks and don't neglect self-care
Lastly, you need time to destress and get your energy back. Take a break and make time for self-care. This could mean exercising, cooking, meditating or anything you love doing! Don't neglect your social life, it is a critical aspect for self-care and your own happiness. Always remember that you’re not alone, everyone needs the help of others! Just like how your loved one needs you, you need your friends and family to have your back. Whenever you need a break or feel stress or trouble, seek help from the people around you.