Serving as a caregiver for a parent, child or friend is a major undertaking, but one that will be cherished for a lifetime. The role of a caregiver is challenging and overwhelming at times. Sometimes the duties and responsibilities change daily, although if you follow basic rules and guidelines, your job can be a little easier.
Caregiving takes considerable effort to do a good job, and the work can be very stressful. According to an article by the Mayo clinic, caregiving is very rewarding but it takes a toll on the body. One moment a caregiver may feel frustrated, and a short time later the caregiver may feel fatigued, alone, or sad. All of theses feelings are common, and they make the caregiver vulnerable to changes in their own health.
As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don't realize that your own health and well-being may be suffering. The Mayo clinic wants you to be on the lookout for these signs of caregiver stress:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medication
According to a US News article by Brenda Avadian, M.A., caregiving can be isolating, but by reaching out to others who walk the same path can preserve a caregivers sanity. These suggestions can help caregivers connect with others:
- Caregiver support groups - These may be difficult at first, but by being around people who truly understand caregiving can provide an emotional lift.
- Caregiver conferences - These offer a welcome change-of-pace filled with information, fun and opportunities to meet new people, while discovering resources in the community.
- Virtual gatherings - Meeting online or by phone provides many of the same benefits of connecting with like-minded people without having to coordinate time away from home. All one needs to do is ask for referrals or search online for caregiver support groups. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Caring.com make it increasingly easy for caregivers to interact.
- Monthly luncheons or hosted holidays - Caregivers find out soon enough that fellow support group members become family.
With all the demands and pressures that accompany caregiving, the caregiver must find a way to take care of themselves otherwise the caregiver risks health problems, exhaustion and fatigue. It is hard to do sometimes by the caregiver must put their needs first by eating healthy, exercising and getting enough rest.
Web MD offers some excellent tips to manage caregiver stress in their stress management health center. These techniques will help reduce the pressure and tension the caregiver experiences daily.
Two-minute relaxation - Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly. Then do a mental scan of your body to find which areas feel tense or cramped. Quickly loosen up these areas and let go of as much tension as you can.
Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax.
Deep breathing relaxation - Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, and fill your belly with air.
Let the air fill you from the belly up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.
Guided imagery - This is a way to let your thoughts move you to a relaxed state of mind. You use your imagination to build up peaceful images in your mind. For instance, you might reflect on all the details that are part of a comfortable place, like a beach or garden.
Biofeedback - This is a method that teaches you how to make changes in your body that let you relax. You'll need to do this with a professional who specializes in this technique.
During a biofeedback session, you'll be connected to electrodes that measure things such as your blood pressure, heart rate, or muscle tension. With help from the therapist, you'll learn how to control some of these things so you can get relaxed.
The role of the caregiver is large, and so many times under appreciated, so the next time you see a caregiver, give them a pat on the back and let them know how valuable they are. Who knows, tomorrow you may need one.