A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative. However, family members who are actively caring for an older adult often don’t self-identify as a “caregiver.”
Recognizing this role can help caregivers receive the support they need.
It doesn’t take a psychology degree to understand that caring for someone else can involve high amounts of stress. Caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people.
Like I said, it seems obvious that caring for a loved one is stressful, but it took me a while to recognise this. Here is my take on it and hopefully it will help you to be aware of it too.
I am a full time carer for my daughter. And her little brother. That’s a lot. But manageable. It get bit harder when there is other stuff happening. Like… Last year, just before Christmas my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I don’t want to get into details but need to mention it, as it affect all of us. Last 7 months were very busy. Not sure if busy is the right word. Intense. I suppose what I’m trying to say is – I’m tired. Physically and mentally.
Couple of years ago I was talking to great psychologist (Thanks Adam!) who told me about carers burnout, how hard it is to cope on daily basis and how easy it is to reach the end of your capabilities or “hit the wall” as he said, when you don’t look after yourself.
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF. I’m sure we all heard it but when you don’t have time to do anything above what needs to be done around the house, kids , etc, when you can’t use the bathroom -without company of little person, then the last thing you think of ,is looking after yourself. Maybe you even think of it but realistically you know it won’t happen. Its me, it happens to me. The pressure, constant worrying, stress, exhaustion (physical and emotional ), insomnia, racing thoughts, anxiety, its real. It’s all here. Its so easy to forget about yourself and own needs.
I love reading books. Its my thing. I read in any free moment I have ( ha ha – what free time??) . A lot of time its in bed when kids are asleep. I know I should be too, if want to survive next day, but instead of going to sleep, I read. I used to anyway. Recently I was so tired I choose sleep over “me time” and my books. Lack of sleep doesn’t help. Im sure any parents can relate to it.
Recently I realized I’m very close to the wall. Like I’m so tired of running in circles. I can’t stop my brain from racing, can’t fall asleep, or when I’m up to feed S.brother at 5 am I can’t go back to sleep – brain is up straight away – going over the plan for the day. I Lost interest in meeting friends because I’m either to tired to make effort to go anywhere or feel like they don’t get me. I don’t expect anyone to understand what I, and my family is going trough, I just don’t feel like I have much to say except about hospital appointments, how’s everyone feeling and etc. – not great company for others – I imagine. Emotionally exhausted and constantly feeling irritated. Sometimes I’m so worked up I can’t catch the breath. Just feeling like walk away. Not sure where could I go and pretty sure guilt hit within 2 minutes after I would, but sometimes It just feels like its too much. And above of all is the financial insecurity.
Until now all my post on this blog were -or at least I tried hard so they were- with positive message at the end. Im always honest here and write about my life, my journey with my daughter’s life condition. Today I think its a first time I got so brave to open so much. It’s not easy to admit It’s hard. The hardest part for me was to admit I’m not coping well and I need a support. But I also think Its brave trying to do. To admit to yourself – not to others – that I’m about to hit the wall. That I can’t keep going with the smile on, like nothing bothers me. It does. And Its OK to admit – its hard, I can’t cope, I need help. I consider myself lucky. I’m sorrunded by very caring friends in here and abroad. Who don’t hesitate to help. Even if I won’t ask – they offer help themselves. Im still learning to ask for help, and im getting better at it (I’m one of those “I can do it all by myself”).
I’m grateful( and teach S. to be). I always say As long as we have food in the fridge, clean water to drink and roof over our heads, we can’t complain. Because Its a lot. And there is loads of people out there who don’t have even that. But sometimes I admit, even though its a lot, its not everything. I know Its important. It is. But so is mental well being. And no matter how busy we are looking after others, kids – with or without extra care needed, family (looking after elderly mother in law or trying to support husband who fights the cancer), house, pets, etc– its important to STOP for a moment.
To find a moment for ourselves. Before hit the wall. Before It’s too late.
Take a break. Even if its just a walk around the street or to shop without kids for a start.
To talk to someone you can trust.
Look for help of specialist if possible.Be kind to yourself, don’t underestimate own needs.
Don’t forget about yourself because you are too busy caring for someone else.
Recently I read that “ Taking care of yourself its not a luxury it is an absolute necessity”. So true. So obvious. Yet so easy to forget. I’m Going to write this quote on my mirror.
Last weekend I got to spend abroad with my old friends. Without the kids. Going to airport I was so tired I cried. I was so drained I couldn’t relax and enjoy the fact I’m going away. But I did. And I enjoyed myself. Did’t realise how much I needed it. It was strange not having to do all I do every day around kids and house, meeting old friends and surprise family, stroll around shops, eat warm meal without being disturb even once, go to hairdresser and beautician (first time in 3 years), walk around town enjoying the view. It was great. I’m so grateful I could do it all. Thanks to my husband who can look after our kids so well. Even thought he isn’t feeling well at the moment. He took over and wanted me to go. Im so blessed. I came back tired (a lot of unusual activities over 3 days) but very happy. Recharged batteries and ready for action 🙂
Caregiving is demanding and stressful. Its great to realise that you need time off. Its so important to look after yourself. Caregiver burnout is a serious problem that needs immediate attention. Its something that can be improved with a few simple changes that improve life balance. Find ways to give yourself time off. Do it as much as you can. One step at the time. To be honest with myself and all readers of this post I should add that I still find it hard to find that “me time” . Without guilt. Without hesitation. Without thinking I’m less important. That beside that weekend off, that was amazing and opened my eyes how much I needed, on daily basis, I choose others than myself. But I’m willing to try. And i hope you are too.
“Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude – from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able – either physically or financially. Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress,anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones”
Caregivers and people who know them should look out for an recognise these symptoms
Emotional and physical exhaustion
Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling pulled in two directions
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and other loved ones
- Loss of interest in activities which you previously enjoyed
- Changes in appetite, weight, or both
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Gaining or loosing weight
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Feelings of alienation, helplessness, or hopelessness
- Guilty about spending time on yourself
- Lack of energy to do new things
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
- Excessive use of alcohol, medications or sleeping pills
- Losing control physically or emotionally
- Feeling stressed in the patient’s presence
- Difficulty concentrating
- Missing appointments
More useful informations:
“Sometimes burnout manifests as depression. If this happens, a caregiver might turn to escapist behaviors like drinking, drugs, sex, or compulsive behaviors. It might also indicate depression if you want to sleep all of the time. As with normal burnout, depression may make you feel too tired to socialize or engage in your favorite pastimes.
The caregiver burden does progress over time. You may feel fine in the beginning and confident that the situation is under control, only to have trouble as the patient’s condition worsens, neglecting things like exercise and self-care. As the burden of caring for your loved one increases, the depression generally gets worse. That’s a huge risk. If you do not address your depression, the quality of your care goes down as well. This calls for a critical doctor’s appointment. You might need medication or counseling. Most of all, it is important to recognize that this is a very common scenario. Even if you don’t have time for everything, you must make time for your emotional well-being.”
“Stategies for dealing with caregiver stress
The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can strain even the most resilient person. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.
To help manage caregiver stress:
- Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, a friend may offer to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Or a friend or family member may be able to run an errand, pick up your groceries or cook for you.
- Focus on what you are able to provide. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
- Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine. Begin to say no to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
- Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation, meal delivery or housekeeping may be available.
- Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.
- Seek social support. Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
- Set personal health goals. For example, set goals to establish a good sleep routine, find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.Many caregivers have issues with sleeping. Not getting quality sleep over a long period of time can cause health issues. If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, talk to your doctor.
- See your doctor. Get recommended vaccinations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.
It may be hard to imagine leaving your loved one in someone else’s care, but taking a break can be one of the best things you do for yourself — as well as the person you’re caring for. Most communities have some type of respite care available, such as:
- In-home respite. Health care aides come to your home to provide companionship, nursing services or both.
- Adult care centers and programs. Some centers provide care for both older adults and young children, and the two groups may spend time together.
- Short-term nursing homes. Some assisted living homes, memory care homes and nursing homes accept people needing care for short stays while caregivers are away.
The caregiver who works outside the home
Nearly 60 percent of caregivers work outside of the home. If you work outside the home and you’re a caregiver, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. If you do, think about taking leave from your job for a period of time.
Employees covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for relatives. Ask your human resources office about options for unpaid leave.
You aren’t alone
If you’re like many caregivers, you have a hard time asking for help. Unfortunately, this attitude can lead to feeling isolated, frustrated and even depressed.
Rather than struggling on your own, take advantage of local resources for caregivers.”