If you are a caregiver, you probably realise that yours is a role which is often critical but also invisible in our society. When you get together as a family, or meet acquaintances, our friends and family all tend to focus on the comfort and the feelings of the patient. They assume that caregivers, who are often a loving spouse, child or even a parent or sibling, are happy in the role and able to cope. And so, our feelings as the caregiver tend to become “invisible” to everyone.
It’s also often the case that we, as caregivers are just as likely as everyone else to downplay our own needs and neglect our health in order to continue to focus on our patient.
Acknowledge the Importance of Keeping Yourself Healthy
The first step you need to take is to acknowledge that your health is just as important as the person for whom you are caring for.
However, many caregivers are so focused on their charges that they often do the following: don’t sleep enough, have poor eating habits, don’t exercise, don’t rest when they are ill, and don’t monitor and go for personal medical appointments. Sometimes, stress also drives caregivers to rely of prescription medications, smoking or alcohol as a form of relief.
But you need to remember that if you are not in good shape, you will not be able to continue in your role as a caregiver. So, if you love the person you care for, you need to love yourself too.
Manage Your Reactions to Stress
Caring for a loved one with mental or physical needs is exhausting. On top of the exhaustion, the isolation and often additional financial concerns make caregiving one of the most stressful responsibilities which you can undertake. Some people however, are better at managing their reactions to stress than others.
Evaluate your own personal habits and try to gauge how well you are able to manage the pressure. Recognise the signs of excessive stress in your life. Irritability, unusual sleep patterns, high anxiety, forgetfulness and feelings of excessive guilt, frustration and depression are all signs of extreme stress. If this is happening to you, take some time out to evaluate what the main causes of stress are for you. It helps to talk this out with a close friend or even a professional counselor. Once you have a better understanding of what is troubling you, you will be able to start to take steps to address them. 2 things which you can do are to take action through small and successive goals, and to stay as active as possible.
Take Action: Set Small, Successive Goals for Yourself
Whatever the root causes of your stress, you can start to address it by making an action plan. Doing something or accepting that you can’t do anything about it are a great way to cut a problem down to size.
Make a list of all your concerns and divide them into 2 columns – things you can’t do anything about and you need to accept, and things that you can. For example, feeling guilty and wishing that your parent’s dementia could reverse itself, are not things which you can change. In a situation like this, you may need to understand that it is natural to grieve, but that there is also nothing you can do to change the situation.
Take a look at the remaining items on the list and set a series of small goals which will allow you to address them. Taking small steps allows you to achieve your goals more easily whilst still allowing you to see the benefits of your plans.
Stay Active: Exercise and Socialise
Staying active and avoiding being isolated will also help you to manage your stress better. Make time to exercise. Even if it is just half an hour of simple stretches, or a walk in the park. Keep in touch with people. Maybe on social media platforms, through messaging or regular, planned meet-ups.
Ask for and Accept Help
Don’t feel bad about asking for help and accepting it too. Know also that sometimes when you ask for help, that you may get turned down, in that case, you can still ask for help in a way that you friend or relative can assist you in. Most people want to help, but may not feel able to take on many of the burdens you carry. So, a relative who might not feel comfortable about staying at home with your sick parent, might be willing to help you to do grocery shopping or send your kids to school.
Talk to Your Doctor
Don’t forget to go for your own medical appointments and to talk to your doctor regularly about your own issues. Sometimes, the primary caregiver is under so much stress that it precipitates and worsens underlying health issues. Not let this happen to you and manage your own health as actively as you do the health of your loved one.
Resources for Caregivers
If you need up-to-date information, advice and support on caregiving, you can refer to AIC.sg to find out more.