According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute, the “typical” caregiver is a 49-year-old female who spends nearly 25 hours a week helping a loved one. But the truth is that caregivers come in all different shapes and sizes. Many don’t even recognize themselves as caregivers or realize that the little errands and tasks they provide for a loved one qualify them as a caregiver.
Regardless of whether a person self-identifies as a caregiver, caring for a sick or elderly loved one is no small task. Managing medications, doctors’ appointments, meals, transportation, housework – all on top of their regular household or family responsibilities – can lead many to suffer from caregiver burnout.
Although November is officially recognized as Family Caregiver Awareness Month, it is important throughout the year to remind caregivers about how much they mean to their families and how important it is for them to take care of themselves as well as they take care of their loved ones.
Just as a flight attendant will instruct you before takeoff, “Put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others,” the same principle applies for caregiving. In order to be an effective caregiver, you can’t neglect to care for yourself.
Below are some tips to help caregivers stay healthy and happy.
Know the signs of caregiver burnout. Suffering from less energy or a decreased immune system; being exhausted no matter how much sleep you get; feeling unable to relax; being impatient with your loved ones; or having feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can all be signs of caregiver burnout. It’s important to take note of both your physical and mental state.
Ask for help. The constant work, fear and worry associated with being a caregiver can become overwhelming, but it’s the isolation that leads to stress. More than 75% of caregivers report that isolation – not the added responsibilities of a loved one—is the number one cause of stress. Reach out and ask for help, there are many resources across the Commonwealth and beyond to help you.
Take time to recharge. It’s easy for caregivers to feel as though they have no time for themselves, shuffling between caring for their loved ones and their work/household/young children. But it is important to remember to carve some time out for yourself. Whether it is taking the time to go for a walk, read a book, meditate or exercise, caregivers need to make time for their own wellbeing.
Remember to care for yourself. When you’re making all those appointments for someone else, don’t forgot to schedule your own checkups, flu shots or other appointments. You can’t be an effective caregiver if you don’t stay healthy. Don’t forget that those who depend on you need you look out for yourself as much as you look out for them.
Caregiving is a rewarding experience and caregivers should be proud of the help they provide. But at the same time it can be a challenging experience. If you think you could be suffering from caregiver burnout, talk to your doctor about getting help or visit https://www.caregiver.org/ for advice, resources and information.