At some point in our lives, either by choice or by default, we will all wear the hat of caregiver. Whether it’s for a child, an elderly or sick parent, or even a pet, we will have to give something of ourselves to another.
According to Psychology Today, the altruism center of the brain is part of the primitive brain. This means that if we see someone in trouble, our instincts to help them kick in before we even think about it. Have you ever taken the time to talk to the cashier at the grocery store and walked away feeling quite good? That is actually oxytocin being released in your brain. We are quite literally wired to care for each other.
The Strain of Being a Caregiver
So why, with all of the feel-good emotions tied to helping others can it also be one of the most emotionally and physically draining experiences of our lives? Could it be that while we are pouring into someone, no one is refilling our tank?
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “Higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health effects are common among family members who care for an older relative or friend.” That is the truth! While caregiving can give us a sense of self-worth, empathy, and belonging, it can also rob us of sleep, emotional well-being, time, and resources.
This time last year I was knee-deep in caring for my father who passed away last May. It was a time of high adrenaline, emotional upheaval, and constant worry. It was also a time of immense internal growth. I learned to act selflessly, to be ready for anything, to dress wounds, to have patience, to hide worry, and most importantly to give all my attention to the present moment. Yes it was hard, but I wouldn’t trade one single minute.
I can’t imagine what others go through. I have heard some of the bleakest of circumstances. I also know what it’s like to love someone in active addiction and not be able to give them the care they need. That is one of the hardest.
Self-Care Tips for Caregivers
All of this is leading up to my big takeaway and I hope yours too.
Whenever you are playing the role of caregiver, remember to also take care of yourself.
Here are some of the things most helpful to me along the journey.
Talk to someone, anyone, about what you are experiencing. In caring for my father, I was so lucky to have partners in my mom and sister. We took turns with doctor’s appointments, wound dressings and meals. We listened to each other’s concerns, despair, and plans. Find someone to talk to. Be it a friend, another caregiver, or a therapist, talk about your feelings so they don’t build up inside.
REST. I made sure I slept even if it meant taking a nap. I watched silly mindless shows before bed to relieve my mind of stress. Sometimes, I would go over to my parents’ house and catch a nap with my father. Those were special memories, hearing his soft snoring, knowing he was at peace if only for a moment.
Eat well. Caregiving is not the time to implement a new diet. Eat when you are hungry and when you are not. You will not be of any help if you are weak or ill from not eating.
Do something every day that is just for you. I went to the gym, took a walk, worked, and hung out with my family to disengage from the constant anxious feelings I had. Sometimes listening to a great song on a walk, I would realize I hadn’t worried in a few minutes. It really works.
Remind yourself this is a marathon and not a sprint. This could last years or could be over in a day. Try to be present as some of the most beautiful moments in caregiving may seem like meaningless chores, but that’s the stuff that sticks with us. The laughter over another botched wound dressing attempt, the conversations about the wood bees eating the deck, the time when we thought he was dying and we all sat on the bathroom floor wiping his brow. The brutality of life brought the most cherished memories.
More Resources for Caregiver Support
I know everyone that cares for someone needs different support. But make no mistake, YOU NEED SUPPORT. Find support at these resources below:
- National Alliance for Caregiving: Help for Caregivers
- I-Ally community for caregivers
- Centers for Disease Controls: Resources for Family Caregivers
- Health.gov: Get Support if You’re a Caregiver
- USA.gov: Caregiver Support
At Youturn Health, we have peer specialists who are trained to help families walk through difficult times. All of our coaches have lived experience and can help you create coping strategies and self-care routines that will make your life easier.
For more info, please check out our Stress Management and Burnout Resources page. If you are already a Youturn Health subscriber, check out our Stress Management course and learn ways to find more peace.
Lastly, for someone who is close to a caregiver, offer to support them in any way you can. Their burden is heavy. They may need an ear to vent, a shoulder to cry on, or just simply someone to sit with them in quiet as they decompress. It’s unlikely they will have any extra time or energy so offering to help with a meal or house cleaning could be just what they need. Like I mentioned previously, we are wired to care for one another, so caregivers need caregivers and so on… To caregivers around the world, thank you! And to those loving them, thank you!