Being a caregiver for family is, by definition, stressful. This is true whether you are helping elderly parents or a sick family member. Even though your efforts may be a labor of love, the stress can wear you down. So, it is extremely important that you take care of yourself.
You must ‘fill your tank’ to have the emotional and physical energy to carry on. Begin by committing to the importance of meeting your own needs. Think about how not doing this can undermine not just your own happiness, but also your ability to care for your loved one. Also think about how taking care of yourself will help you to help them.
Here are a few ways to lessen your stress and increase your energy reserve:
Maintain a healthy diet. What you eat not only provides the raw energy for you to get through your day, but it is also essential for your body and mind to stay healthy.
Get sufficient sleep. People frequently push through being tired so they can get more done; and often even see this as a kind of merit badge, proving their worth. But sleep deprivation takes its toll on your ability to think clearly, manage well emotionally, and maintain a strong, healthy body.
Exercise regularly. Exercise is a great way to manage stress, as well as keep your body and mind strong.
Have fun, even if you need to schedule it in. This is easier said than done because when you are worried and stressed, it’s often hard to enjoy yourself. But engaging in enjoyable and fulfilling activities can help you let go of stress and even enjoy life more. That said, you may need to do activities that used to make you happy until you get some traction and they actually make you happy again.
Use healthy coping strategies. There are many, many healthy ways to cope with stress. For instance, you could go for a walk or jog, talk with friends, or play music. If you are aware of relying on unhealthy coping – such as smoking, drinking, or emotional eating – then consider choosing healthy alternatives.
Surround yourself with supportive friends and family. These people are invaluable resources who can help lighten your load. Talk with them about your struggles or just enjoy time together. Or, ask them to help in practical ways, such as babysitting or relieving you of some of your caretaking duties.
Before you cast this suggestion aside for fear of burdening them, consider this: Wouldn’t you feel good about helping out an over-stressed friend? Maybe you can offer them this very opportunity.
Keep in mind that you are only human. As with everyone else, you have your limits. You can only do so much. So, prioritize and do your best to delegate responsibilities.
Remember: This, too, shall pass. Whatever the situation or your emotional state, it will not last forever. Things have not always been this difficult, and they won’t always be. To the best you can, keep your struggles in perspective. This tactic can help you get through the moment.
Be open to seeking professional help. If you feel chronically overwhelmed or unhappy, it may be time to find outside assistance. This can mean finding appropriate help (such as respite care, which provides short-term relief for caregivers) or reaching out to a therapist.
When you manage your stress well, you are more likely to enjoy the benefits of being a caregiver, such as deepening the relationship with your loved one or just knowing you are doing the right thing. You will also be more open to the sense of meaning and fulfillment that can accompany this very special role.