Self-care advice for family caregivers
Older people often need additional assistance to enjoy their lives, especially those staying at home through their golden years. For family members, it is both an act of love and a pleasure to enable our relatives to retain as much independence as possible, but that doesn’t make caregiving any easier.
Here is some helpful self-care advice for family carers to consider, as well as tips for managing caregiver stress, and suggestions about when you should seek medical or social assistance.
Know the Signs of Caregiver Stress
Caring for loved ones is rewarding but oftentimes difficult, so be aware of the ways stress can present in individuals. Long-term stress is very damaging for overall health, can lead to illnesses like depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and can have severe impacts on your own quality of life.
Common symptoms of caregiver stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or anxious much of the time
- Getting too much/too little sleep, and feeling tired
- Becoming irritable or easy to anger, or perhaps frequently sad
- Losing interest in hobbies or recreational activities you used to enjoy
- Frequent headaches/aches and pains without cause
- Substance abuse, most often alcohol or drugs, to cope with these emotions
Modulating Stress: Coping Strategies
The key to maintaining your own good health is to notice the signs early and take action, before simple, isolated symptoms become something far worse. Coping strategies for modulating stress include:
- Taking symptoms seriously. Lack of sleep might not seem like a big deal to begin with, but coupled with irritability and forgetfulness, you’re already at risk for complications.
- Identifying Stressors. What is causing your stress? Commitments? Familial disagreements? A feeling of providing inadequate care? Identify these and acknowledge them.
- Justifying Stressors. Many stressors are beyond your control, but while you can’t control how others behave, you can change how you react. By identifying stressors that you can affect and make small changes to mitigate them, even if it’s as simple as improving diet or water intake.
- Becoming proactive. Make contact with family or friends who have offered help, make personal goals to improve your own health and wellbeing, or contact an agency designed to help carers with self-care.
Be Honest With Yourself
One of the biggest hurdles for carers is realising they’re not machines that are made to give comfort, but humans who need love and rest as much as those in their care. Be honest not just about your own limitations, but also about what you need to stay happy and healthy. This can include:
- Taking a break a few times a week to do something relaxing
- Realising your limits and not beating yourself up for not keeping up
- Remembering you’re human too and that you can’t do everything alone
- Asking for help with tasks and commitments when you’re struggling
- Seeking medical assistance if you feel you’re not managing your own needs effectively
Keep Goals Realistic
Finding the time and resources to focus on yourself can be difficult. Make sure self-care goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-sensitive); whether that’s time for a relaxing bath on a Friday night, reading a few pages of a new book a week, or accepting offers of help that come your way.
Self-Care Made Easy – 4 Simple Acts of Kindness
With time and money often holding us back, remember that self-care doesn’t have to be pricey or extravagant. Here are four easy, cost-effective ways to show yourself some kindness today:
- Make a cup of tea and sit somewhere quiet to drink it
- Meditate before bed to calm your anxieties and re-centre your mind
- Take some light exercise such as a stroll through the park or some yoga at home
- Call someone you love and talk about something mundane
Reach Out – Connect with Social Services
There are a number of organisations dedicated to assisting caregivers, providing respite care, or just giving carers an afternoon to themselves. Do a quick web search or ask your doctor for information on local amenities. Most charities and organisations will gladly lend an ear to your frustrations and offer advice, even if they’re unsuitable for your needs.
Finally, Be Kind To Yourself
Regardless of who needs your help, how often you assist, or if they can reciprocate your care, it is important to remember that you’re worth more just than the attention you can give. Your health and wellbeing, as well as your social and physical needs, are just as important as the needs of those for whom you care, and should be a priority amongst your commitments.