You dedicate your life to taking care of others. What about yourself? You can’t pass out alms from an empty coin purse — you need to care for yourself, too.
Caregiving for a friend or family member is one of the most challenging things to take on — and one of the most underappreciated. Yes, hearing “thank you” lifts your spirits. However, to manage the stress of daily demands, you need to prioritize your mental well-being, too.
1. Learn the Signs of Burnout
When you experience burnout, your concentration on the job falters. You fall prey to making careless mistakes, and you may hinder your career progression. Learn the signs and take immediate action if you notice the following:
- Constant fatigue: If you’re experiencing burnout, a good night’s rest no longer leaves you feeling refreshed and energized to tackle your day. If you fall asleep while engrossed in a good book or can never muster the energy to go to the gym, you need a break.
- Feeling overworked and underappreciated: Nearly everyone feels like they do too much for too little on occasion — usually when they pay their monthly bills. However, if you feel more like a broodmare than a valuable contributor, overwork is likely to blame.
- Lack of enthusiasm toward work: How do you feel on Sunday night? Do you look forward to the coming workday, or do you cling to your Netflix binge in denial?
- Compassion fatigue: You used to lay a reassuring hand on Mr. Obstinate’s shoulder when he hesitated to take his medications. Now you find yourself tapping your foot impatiently.
2. Consult with Professionals on Tricky Topics
Unless you’re an attorney or paralegal, you likely struggle to navigate the tricky waters of long-term care financing. Do you have the letters “M.D.” following your name? If not, you might not understand some of the trickier aspects that come with being a caretaker for a disabled or elderly person, such as how taking two medications close together can impact absorption, or how to spot the subtle signs of opioid addiction in senior chronic pain sufferers.
Reach out for expert help when you have complex questions. For example, if the agent you appointed to handle your mother’s estate won’t cooperate with your wishes, seek the professional opinion of a lawyer paid to look out for her best interests. Yes, you will pay for these services — but making mistakes on items like nursing home paperwork can cost you more down the road.
3. Build a Strong Support Network
What do you do for fun? You can’t spend every minute of each day caring for your loved one, even if they’re in hospice care. You need a way to blow off steam and have a good time.
Join a sports league at your local community center to meet new friends who share your love of fitness. Find a quilter’s circle or a book club — there are groups dedicated to nearly any hobby. Say yes to joining your co-workers for Friday afternoon happy hour.
4. Establish Boundaries
What are you willing to do? What do you consider too much? If you live in Albuquerque but your aging parent resides in Toledo, you might not have the budget for monthly plane tickets to visit them. However, you can talk to their senior care home aide about helping them use a tablet so you can connect via Skype.
If your sister has a sick child, you might be willing to baby-sit every other weekend — not every afternoon after school. Set firm boundaries and communicate them to everyone on the care team.
5. Eat Well and Exercise
You can’t take care of others if you feel like death warmed over. Neglecting your health to take care of someone else will lead to resentment and burnout. Take the time to prepare healthy meals on weekends and schedule time for exercise most days of the week. Working out releases endorphins, natural feel-good chemicals that alleviate stress.
6. Practice Self-Care
Remember, you deserve love as much as the people you care for each day. If you find yourself struggling with mental health woes or addiction, seek professional help. A combination of talk therapy and medication can make you feel better.
Institute a daily practice of positive meditation — you can find free resources on YouTube or subscribe to a wellness podcast. Give yourself time to lose yourself in a novel or laze in a steamy bubble bath after a trying day.
7. Take a Much-Needed Vacation
Fully 25% of American workers get no paid leave — and caregivers often fall into this group. However, you can’t overstate the wellness benefits of taking a vacation. If you can save up sufficient money, take at least one week of holiday each year.
Also save up to take the occasional mental health day. If you can’t afford to lose eight hours, leave an hour or two early on a Friday to stroll manicured museum grounds or try a new yoga class.
Caregivers Need Self-Love, Too
As a caregiver, you give your all to others. However, you need to recharge your mind and body, too. Follow the tips above to stay sane and continue bringing your best to those you love.