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Caring for a family member can be both rewarding and challenging, especially when caring for a loved one with a serious illness. Family caregivers play a crucial role in the well-being of their loved ones, but it's equally important to prioritize their own health and happiness to ensure they can provide the best care for their loved ones. Whether you are professionally trained to be a caregiver or just a family member taking care of a loved one, is it crucial to recharge your batteries so you yourself don’t experience burnout, mental and physical exhaustion.
That said, recognizing and acknowledging the signs of caregiver stress and burnout is the first step in taking charge of your well-being.
Take Regular Breaks
Whenever you feel the weight on your shoulder is getting heavier and overwhelming, allocate time for yourself at least once daily to unwind and have a break. This could look like a 10 minute deep breath every morning before attending to your loved ones, taking a short 20 minute walk outside in the evening, or sparing some time engaging in activities that make you happy and relaxed. Whatever makes you feel recharged and revitalized, make sure to note it down and make it a part of your regular schedule. Besides, carving out personal downtime after they’re asleep is just as important for you to be able to keep up with the mental and physical energy that it takes as a caregiver.
Seek Assistance Whenever Needed
No one should be afraid or feel embarrassed to ask for help. As much as you want to be a superhero and manage everything on your own, there are only so many hours a day and only one you. It’s understandable that it can be difficult to ask for help when you play the role of a helper, but you’ll be surprised how much easier it would be if you share the responsibilities with the other family members such as helping with household chores, meal preparation, shopping for basic necessities and so on.
Practice Healthy Coping Skills
Beyond building a stronger support system, improving your approach to self-care and coping mechanisms goes a long way in fostering resilience in these challenging times. Always bear in mind that you have to fill your cup first so you have enough to give and will be able to conquer whatever challenges that may arise.
Some coping tips that anyone can try to follow:
Building A Support System
Remain socially connected even though days are long and exhausting. While it can be a struggle to keep social appointments on par with friends and family in the face of medical caretaking, maintaining social connections is key to feel less isolated and prevent burnout. This can include calling a loved one once a week, scheduling a dinner with friends or family from time to time, going to the gym with your friends etc. Not only will your mental health flourish, but it also makes life much more enjoyable.
Besides, finding support through local caregiver support groups is just as important and helpful. Knowing that you’re not alone and others are going through similar experiences may nurture your ability to be self-compassionate. Support groups are often offered by hospitals and local organizations and can be attended by anyone who is going through the same thing.
Setting boundaries of acceptable behaviors or requests with the loved one you’re caring for is a form of self-care as well. Some may think good caregivers would attend to all of their loved one needs and wants. Yet many caregivers are so caught up with fulfilling the demands of their ill loved ones that they neglect their own physical, emotional and mental needs. Good boundary setting means respectfully and clearly communicating your expectations, limits and needs. Recognize when you need to decline additional responsibilities or commitments as overcommitting can easily lead to frustration and burnout.
Caring for a loved one is a profound act of compassion, but it's essential for family caregivers to prioritize their own well-being. Getting the support you need and practicing self-care can help you recover from burnout, boost your well-being, and become a better caregiver. Remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish; it's a necessity for sustained caregiving and a healthier, more fulfilling life. Don't hesitate to reach out for help and prioritize your own well-being.
This article is written by Janelle Leong, Bpharm(Hons) (DOC2US),
reviewed by Dr. Joshua Jude Solomon, MBBS (DOC2US)
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