The more I work with family caregivers, the more I notice the struggles each of them share. Feelings of guilt, resentment and frustration are often experienced. Also common is the belief that taking a break or taking time to tend to one's needs is selfish. The problem with believing this is the ability for it to cause caregiver burnout. In order to prevent family caregivers from becoming overwhelmed, there are a few things I make sure to remind them of and help them incorporate into their daily/weekly routine. A few of those reminders are below:
1) Caring for yourself is not selfish - Recognizing the importance and the need for self-care is often one of the hardest things for individuals to do, especially if it is believed that by doing so equates to being selfish. What is important to understand is that by giving your "all" to another individual, it most likely means you are not caring for you own personal well-being (i.e. your health), which if unchecked can result in a worse physical and/or mental state than your loved one. While such consequences may not be noticeable at the beginning of your caregiving responsibility, it can get worse as the weeks, months and/or years pass.
2) Asking for help does not mean you are weak or incapable - A common barrier many family caregivers experience when thinking about asking for help is the belief that by doing so it may be perceived by others (i.e. family members) negatively. Conflict with relatives, cultural norms and/or your loved one's refusal to accept help can impact a caregiver's decision to reach out. Often, education about available resources and counseling is needed to help overcome such concerns.
3) Making time to do your own things in vital - If there is one thing I make sure to remind my clients about, it is this. Even though you are caring for another adult, it does not negate the fact that you are your own person with your own interests, hobbies and responsibilities. Caring for another individual, undoubtedly, will hamper your ability to engage in various activities. And while you may no longer be able to schedule a weekend getaway, it doesn't mean time for yourself shouldn't be arranged. Whether it is finding time for coffee/drinks with some friends, a few hours to watch a movie or going for a nearby stroll, the goal is to allow allow yourself some time to "recharge" and temporarily "escape" from the situation.
While I recognize the above suggestions are "easier said than done," they are being said with the purpose of, at least, serving as a reminder of how important you and your health is to providing the best care to your loved one and ultimately yourself.
Have you found a way to ease your caregiving responsibilities? How do you regain the strength you need to continue caring for your loved one? If so, please share your thoughts below.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.