Caregiving is what they call it. Exhausting is what I call it. And obligatory is what it seems.
As a family caregiver, you may find yourself facing a host of new responsibilities, many of which are unfamiliar or intimidating. At times, you may feel overwhelmed and alone. I know – I’ve walked miles in your shoes. Between doctors’ appointments, dispensing medication, helping complete daily tasks, sometimes managing two households, providing meals, and more, it’s all too easy to feel overburdened, overstressed, and overwhelmed.
Let’s face it, sometimes you feel less like a caregiver – an angel in disguise – and more like chopped liver – unappreciated, ignored, disregarded. So how do we develop healthy coping mechanisms?
Accept Your Feelings
Worry, fear, anxiety, anger, resentfulness, guilt, grief – you may experience one or all of these. And just when you think you’ve conquered one another pops up and the cycle begins again.
You may worry about how handling the additional responsibilities and the future of your family member if something happens to you. You may feel angry or resentful toward the person you’re caring for, even though you know it’s irrational. Or you might be angry at the world in general, or resentful of other friends or family members who don’t have your responsibilities.
You may feel guilty for not doing more, being a “better” caregiver, having more patience, accepting your situation with more composure, or not being available more often.
Grief is not an uncommon feeling, and will creep upon you time and time again. Losses you may grieve could include the healthy future you envisioned with your spouse or child, the goals and dreams you’ve had to set aside, etc. Or your grief may be for someone who is terminally ill.
Even when you understand why you're feeling the way you do, it can still be upsetting. In order to deal with your feelings, it's important to talk about them. Don't keep your emotions bottled up; find at least one person you trust to confide in.
Attend To Your Own Needs
Take time to relax and learn how to regulate yourself and de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed. Talk with someone to make sense of your situation and your feelings.
Feed your spirit. Pray, meditate, or do another activity that makes you feel part of something greater. Seek meaning in your life and in your role as a caregiver.
Watch out for signs of depression and anxiety, and get professional help if needed.
Stay social. Nurture your close relationships. Join or re-establish your connection to a religious group, social club, or other organization. Join a caregiver support group. Don't let yourself become isolated.
Do things you enjoy. Laughter and joy can help keep you going when you face trials, stress, and pain.
Take regular breaks from caregiving, and give yourself an extended break at least once a week. One of the most important things you can do, for you and your loved one, is take advantage of respite care opportunities. This can be for an hour or longer. Adult Day Care offered by the VON could be part of a weekly schedule. Short stays are available at Woodingford Lodge, the Tillsonburg Retirement Centre, and the Harvest Retirement Community. There may be a small daily fee, but it is worth every penny.
Well-nourished and rested bodies are better prepared to cope with stress and get through busy days. Keep up with your own health care. Go to the doctor and dentist on schedule, and maintain your own medical therapy. As a caregiver, you need to stay as strong and healthy as possible.
Taking care of ourselves sometimes seems as much work as taking care of someone else, which is why we often neglect ourselves. However, if you don’t claim time for yourself and make sure you use it, you will burn out and the person in your care will suffer.
I know – most of the items on this list seem like no-brainers. But when you take on caregiving responsibilities, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you begin to neglect even the basics.
A helpful resource to watch for is “The Family Caregiver Magazine” coming soon to our library. You can also get a FREE subscription by calling 1-800-209-4810.