As more Americans live with complex, chronic health conditions, caregivers are more important than ever. However, caring for a loved one with a condition like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or severe mental illness can be exhausting in every way.
Caregivers who neglect their own needs have a more difficult time providing for a loved one, and are also at greater risk of health issues like depression, substance abuse, and chronic disease.
Here are three ways caregivers can take care of themselves to stay well and healthy.
1. Manage expectations.
Caregivers can easily become overwhelmed when they set high, unrealistic expectations for themselves. No one is perfect, and no one is a perfect caregiver. What is most important is that caregivers recognize that their care does make a difference, and they are doing the best they can.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that caregivers concentrate on what they can provide, and what they are best at doing. Even while feeling guilty, caregivers can assure themselves that they are making the best decisions, based on what they know at the time.
Realistic expectations also apply to daily tasks. It may not be realistic to check off every to-do list item in one day. Instead, determine which tasks are most important, and focus on accomplishing those. Lower-priority tasks can be set aside for later.
Break up large tasks or goals into smaller, more manageable steps. Caregivers also should practice saying no to excessive requests, such as hosting events or working overtime.
2. Ask for help.
Many caregivers feel alone and overwhelmed. They may feel that no one else understands, or cares about, their situation. They may have financial difficulties and severe time constraints. Yet asking for help may seem like too much trouble.
Caregivers may feel guilty, are not sure what to ask for, or are afraid to hear “No.” However, asking for help may be the key to wellbeing—and providing better care for their loved one.
Here’s how to ask:
Think ahead about what you need—don’t ask for help at the last minute.
Make a list of tasks and who else is most able or qualified to do them.
Explain your situation and why you need the help.
Be courteous and realistic when asking—someone who works full-time may not be available in the middle of the day.
Whenever possible, be specific. For example, instead of asking, “Could you help me out sometime?” you can say, “Could you drop off my dry cleaning on your way to work tomorrow?” or “I need someone to pick up my kids from school on Monday.”
3. Don’t neglect mental health.
Caregiving often takes a bigger mental toll than physical toll. Caregivers often experience feelings of anxiety, loneliness, frustration, and guilt. Discussing these feelings, and other things, with a mental health professional may help. The provider may offer a fresh perspective and teach coping strategies.
Other resources can also help caregivers with emotional burdens. For example, hospitals often offer support groups for individuals caring for loved ones with chronic diseases. Online support groups or forums, community-based organizations, and religious organizations may also be sources of support and encouragement.
Behavioral health providers understand the importance of caregiving, and how stressful it can be. BestNotes EHR solutions are built with behavioral health and addiction treatment providers in mind, to help make your workplace more efficient and less stressful. Contact us today to learn more.