Taking on the role of caregiver to your parents or other loved ones is a selfless and meaningful task — and a gift to your loved ones. However, it can take a toll on both your physical and mental health.
Caring for aging parents or other loved ones can be a complicated, confusing and potentially exhausting task. It can also be challenging to know when (and how) to take care of yourself while supporting others. Self-care is a vital part of being a caregiver, as you cannot adequately take care of your family if you're stressed out or drained. Here are four valuable tips that could help you maintain your energy, health and positive outlook.
1. Ask for (& Accept) Help
Do you feel like you're on your own? This may be a familiar feeling for many primary caregivers. As a caregiver, you may have little time for common forms of self-care, and this lack of self-care could lead to feelings of isolation. But just because you've assumed the role of primary caregiver does not mean you can't ask for help and accept it when it's offered.
If you're caring for your parents or other loved ones, the first place to seek out help is from siblings or other close family members. Seeking out help from family, even if it's just for a small period of time, could help provide some relief from the challenges of daily care. The opportunity to take a nap, watch a movie or enjoy some "me" time can do wonders for your physical and mental well-being. You can also arrange for occasional "vacations" from caregiving to keep yourself refreshed and recharged. These "vacations" can be anything from a weekend getaway to a more extended trip.
Accepting help when it's offered is equally important. You may feel like you should shrug off any offers of assistance — even though it'd be better for your mental and physical energy to accept them. So, when friends or family ask if there's anything they can do, be ready with an answer. Ask them to make dinner for the whole family — or sit with your parents while they watch their favorite television program. Accepting help can give you time to get a haircut, buy groceries, get coffee with a friend you haven't seen in a while or pick up dry cleaning. Having little tasks taken off your to-do list can go a long way toward helping you feel capable of handling the difficulties of caregiving.
2. Talk About Your Feelings
Your feelings for those you care for can become so tangled, which is why caregiver stress can be such a serious problem. Caring for loved ones who are no longer independent can cause your emotions to ricochet from love to guilt to anger to frustration. (And sometimes it can feel like you're experiencing all of these emotions at the same time.)
It may also seem like you can't talk about these feelings, since it may feel disloyal to admit that so many negative emotions accompany your love for your parents or other loved ones. But keeping these feelings to yourself is a bad idea — and can quickly lead to burnout. Talking about your difficult emotions with a sympathetic listener can give you a place to vent your feelings. It can also give you a way to deal with the conflicting emotions of caregiving.
A professional counselor or therapist can be a great help, but don't assume you have to find a professional to derive a benefit from talking about your problems. You could also seek out a clergy member, a support group for caregivers or a compassionate friend or relative.
3. Balance Caregiving & Employment
Being a caregiver can often be a full-time job, and it can be incredibly difficult to handle caring for someone on top of your usual employment. You may have no choice but to keep your full-time job and your full-time caregiving role. However, there are ways to balance caregiving and your career — so you don't suffer from burnout.
Determine if you're covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which protects your job if you need to take time off for caregiving, according to the Department of Labor. The FMLA covers employees who've been working at least 12 months at a company with at least 50 employees.
Once you know your federal rights, speak to your employer about your caregiving duties. You may be able to work with them to help make your schedule more flexible, which can help you handle both your caregiving and employment duties.
4. Consider Home Health Care Workers
Caregivers who cannot leave their loved ones alone — and who either work full-time or live too far away to provide daily care — can also explore other options. A home health agency can provide a team of home health care workers to provide the services needed.
These services range from home care aides — who can help your loved ones with meals, bathing, dressing and housework — to skilled nursing care for help with medical needs. Medicare may also cover some skilled nursing care. You can find Medicare-approved agencies by asking your loved one's primary care physician or community agencies, such as the local Area Agency on Aging. These services could help give you the time you need to care for yourself and maintain both physical and psychological health.
Caregivers must take care of themselves to have the resources they need to help their loved ones. Remember that in addition to taking time for yourself, your self-care should also include taking care of yourself financially. Life insurance, disability insurance and long-term care insurance could help you ensure you won't pass caregiving costs or responsibilities onto your children.
If you're a caregiver for your parents or other loved ones, life could throw many challenges your way. However, taking time for a little self-care could help you face whatever comes next. From asking for (and accepting) help to talking about your feelings and seeking out home health care workers, there are many things you could do that could help you cope with your caregiving responsibilities.