As a caregiver, you might sometimes feel like a machine; an unstoppable, always-on-the-go, ready-for-anything machine. Otherwise, how could you possibly channel the strength, energy and efficiency it takes not just to care for your loved one but also to keep things balanced in your own life? But you’re not a machine. You’re a human being with your own needs. When you serve as the primary caregiver to a loved one, it can be easy to forget that. However, ignoring your own needs can have serious consequences to your emotional health. According to an article published by UT San Diego, 40 to 70% of primary caregivers are living with serious stress. Roughly half of those, the article continues, meet the basic conditions for major depression. In fact, many caregivers are so consumed with the responsibilities of their role that they don’t even realize it. As rewarding as caregiving can be, the emotional and physical strains will take their toll on even the most resilient of providers. Part of managing the challenges of caregiving includes managing your own mental health:
Know the Symptoms Anxiety and depression can sneak up on you, especially when so much of your energy is dedicated to the wellbeing of another. Stop to reflect once in awhile. The Mayo Clinic points to a few potential signs that your caregiving responsibilities are causing anxiety or depression:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Thoughts of suicide
These signs may be an indication that the stress of your caregiving role is having a negative impact on your mental health. If you are feeling some combination of these symptoms, you should consult a mental health professional.
Seek Support Feeling overwhelmed by your caregiving responsibilities is normal. In addition to the practical challenges that you face everyday, you may be coping with grief over your loved one’s condition or a sense of isolation in your role. But you aren’t alone. There are many others who share the same complex mix of experiences and emotions. UT San Diego advises finding a support group for caregivers like yourself. This will give you an outlet for your frustrations, access to others who share these frustrations and a network of caring individuals who understand exactly what you’re going through. Of course, don’t be afraid to ask friends or family for advice, help or even just a shoulder to cry on.
Take Care of Your Self If you really want to do what’s best for your loved one, you need to do what’s best for you. To be an attentive, compassionate, and loving caregiver, you need to maintain your own health. You’ll make a lot of sacrifices to be a caregiver but your sleep, diet and exercise shouldn’t be among them. Your mental health and your physical wellbeing are inseparable. UT San Diego reminds us that exercise ups your body’s production of dopamine and endorphins, which can in turn enhance your mood. Use your personal health regimen as a release from the stress of caregiving.
Don’t Forget About You You matter. Take time out of your day wherever possible to remind yourself of this, whether this means reading a book, having coffee with a friend, pursuing a hobby or just taking a little cat nap. Don’t forget to do the things that make you happy. When your life is in balance, you’ll find yourself far better equipped to bring balance to the life your loved one.