Being a caregiver to a loved one who can no longer care for themselves can be one of the most stressful situations to deal with. The demands on your time, the sacrifice, the emotional drain, the pain of seeing a person you care about continue to decline mentally and physically, the anger and guilt—it can feel like too much sometimes, and knowing that the same things awaits you every day just compounds it all. It is vital to take just as much care of yourself, but something most caregivers neglect to do, either because they really do not think they have the time or because they feel selfish worrying about themselves. But, tending to your well-being is not selfish—in fact, it will help you care for your loved one even better, which directly benefits them. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this role, here are some tips for dealing with the stress.
Accept All Your Feelings about This Role
If you are like many people in this role, you probably have your moments when you feel anger about the situation. You just do not feel like doing this anymore and you wish you did not have to. This is usually followed by a tremendous amount of guilt, which just compounds all the stress. It is okay to hate it—it does not mean you are a bad person or that you do not love your family member. If we could pick our life experiences, I highly doubt anyone would opt for having a sick loved one who you need to tend to 24 hours a day. It does not make you a selfish, horrible person. We have a tendency to prefer good situations and dislike unpleasant ones. Everything you feel is natural and okay. Be easier on yourself for being human.
Experiment with Meditation
Meditation has been used as a tool for promoting mental and physical well-being for thousands of years; it is a powerful tool for relieving stress and changing perception—probably one of the most powerful. For this reason, it is probably a good idea to be utilizing it to handle your stress. Research on caregivers specifically has found that it reduced stress more effectively than other methods, such as listening to a CD meant to induce relaxation. A particularly powerful form appears to be a form of yogic chanting mediation called kirtan kriya—it is very easy to learn and you can find out more about it here. While this practice is heavily associated with spirituality, mediation is ultimately a practical tool for improving mental health and it does not matter what you believe in.
Make Your Well-Being a Priority
We have been taught that basically doing anything for our own happiness is selfish, and for this reason, we neglect ourselves to the point of damaging our physical and mental health. This idea may especially plague you as a caregiver. You feel badly for worrying about yourself when your loved one is struggling with such serious health issues. But, caring about yourself and caring about other people is not mutually exclusive. Caring about yourself does not mean there is less concern left for other people. It is important that you make your own well-being a priority. This might mean pulling back on other obligations or saying no more often—this can be a tough one but you have a valid reason so people will understand, and if they do not, their problem, not yours. Take time each day to just focus on you, even if it is just 30 minutes, it can make a world of difference. Dealing with caregiver stress needs to be a top priority for those experiencing it.
Kelli Cooper, writing for Lift Caregiving, is a freelance writer who enjoys sharing tips on how to deal with the stresses of caring for loved ones and how to take care of yourself as well.