Whether you’re caring for an aging parent or helping a family member or spouse who’s going through cancer treatments or recuperating from an accident, the role of caregiver has many different faces. November has been designated National Caregivers Month and it’s a time to take note of those individuals – and it may be yourself – who give of their time and make a commitment to help care for a family member or friend.
Understanding what care giving means
For many people giving care means helping an individual cope with daily needs. Those needs could range from preparing meals, cleaning the house, running errands or taking them to a doctor, helping them get dressed or helping with physical or occupational therapy treatments. Caregiving could also mean making sure that medications are taken, that blood sugar levels are monitored or that personal hygiene is maintained. The role of caregiver could even simply mean “being there for them” as they navigate the emotional roller coaster that could come with limited mobility or the uncertainty of treatment and its outcome.
Being thrust into the role of caregiver may mean you need to put your own emotions and needs aside. It’s also easy for many caregivers to neglect caring for themselves and eventually experience burnout and stress from the role they’ve taken on; it can lead to depression and anxiety.
Caregivers need to learn to take care of themselves first and foremost so they can be an effective caregiver. What steps can you take to make certain you are both mentally and emotionally healthy and able to continue in your role?
Here are some ideas you can incorporate into your daily routine:
- Acknowledge your feelings. You’re “allowed” to feel anger, guilt or frustration. Your feelings are your own and need to be addressed. It’s all right to feel these feelings as caregiving can be an exhausting and sometimes seemingly thankless task. Unless someone is in that role, they will not understand what you’re going through. If that’s the case, you should connect with other caregivers so you can share your feelings.
- Keep track of your feelings because if you’re overcome with a sense of sadness that lingers you may be depressed and should talk with a doctor. Feeling angry with yourself for your lack of patience with the person for whom you’re caring or with family members that aren’t helping out are extremely natural. You should look to the cause of the anger and address it: is it stress, fear, the need for more support?
What can you do to address your feelings?
- Ask for help. If you don’t ask, friends and family may simply assume you’re carrying on just fine and may not consider the stress you’re under.
- Understand that your feelings are natural.
- Focus on those tasks which make sense during the day. If you simply don’t have time to mow the lawn or deep clean the bathroom, let it go or hire someone to do it for you. Look to those tasks that you don’t want to do or can’t do and reach out for help. Ask for help with shopping, running errands or cooking meals.
- Take time for yourself. Ask for a day off and then do something you enjoy. Whether it’s visiting a museum, going for a walk or just taking a few hours to sit in a coffee shop and relax, you need to practice self care.
- Don’t feel guilty asking for help. Unless someone is in your shoes, they cannot understand how difficult (and yes, rewarding) caregiving can be.
Caregivers provide a much-needed level of support for family members but in many cases they “toil in obscurity” because unless you reach out, not many people will understand that you need assistance. Even the individual you’re caring for may not be as appreciative as you’d imagine they “should” be, but you need to keep in mind that he or she is struggling to cope with the changes in their life that has lead them to need a caregiver. Working together and working with family and friends can make your role as a caregiver rewarding and fulfilling.