A selfless heart can heal a thousand wounds, but first it must heal itself. There are over 43 million adults in the United States outside of the healthcare industry who have taken it upon themselves to care for another. Whether it’s an ill parent or an injured spouse, the call to action is second nature to these caring individuals. But while watching over others, it is easy to forget to take time of oneself.
Take Time For Yourself
The largest population of home caregivers are known as the sandwich population. These are often adults with both young children and elderly parents to take care of. Between ensuring the kids are doing their best in school, caring for their parents, and working, often full time, these caregivers find little to no time for themselves. If you have found yourself squished into this spot, it is important to take a breath and step back.
Although it may seem like you need to take care of everyone, you are likely forgetting the most important person-- yourself. According to researchers, caregivers who take no time for themselves can become extremely stressed. This can lead to harmful habits including smoking and excessive drinking. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, caregivers who spend 9 hours or more a day caring for someone else have double the risk of heart disease, and are 63% more likely to die compared to non-caregivers of the same age.
Physical Signs of Caregiver Stress
Because caregivers seem so resilient, it can be hard to notice the signs of stress. Even the most exhausted people can fake a smile and say “everything is alright.” There are some physical signs of stress that are easy to pinpoint. The first is constant exhaustion. A caregiver may try to ignore this symptom, saying they are just tired because they work too much. While this may be true, severe exhaustion is a sign of depression. If the caregiver feel tired even after getting a full night’s sleep, or uses exhaustion as a reason not to get out of bed, it is time to seek help.
Another physical sign is weight gain or loss. If a caregiver is ignoring their physical appearance, it is a sign they are stressed or overworked. If they are losing weight, they could be skipping meals, which can cause low-blood sugar. Again, this is also a sign of depression. If it is not addressed quickly enough, depression can lead to thoughts of suicide.
Emotional Signs of Caregiver Stress
Not all signs of stress can be seen by the naked eye. If you are worried about a caregiver, even if they look fine on the outside, it is important to have a conversation with them. Sometimes all anyone needs is an ear willing to listen. Some of the most common signs of stress include headaches, feeling numb, and trouble focusing. When the stress has reached this level, professional help may be required.
When someone you love is sick, it can be difficult to allow someone else to help them. You do not need to give up the reigns entirely, but hiring respite care is a great first step. Respite care is planned, temporary caregiver for your loved one. Hiring someone you trust to help out one to two days a week can help you relieve stress and find time for yourself.
Instead of spending 24 hours a day by someone’s side, make sure you are scheduling breaks. If being a caregiver is essentially your full-time job, treat it that way. Make sure you step a way for 10 minute breaks, and ensure you are eating lunch. It may feel selfish at first, but in reality, it is usually a benefit to all parties involved. By taking time for yourself, you will come back refreshed, ready to take care of your loved one.
It is important to also take care of your mental health. By talking to a therapist, you can clear your mind of stress. You can also talk through any burdens you are feeling. This is especially important if you are showing signs of depression or have had thoughts of suicide. It is never too late to get help.