Is your quality of life being compromised by the responsibility of caring for someone else? Are you feeling guilty and overwhelmed about the way you are feeling about the situation?
If so, you’re not alone. There are approximately 45 million caregivers in the United States. As the baby boomer generation gets older, this number is expected to increase. People can be a caregiver for a few months or many years. Some are caring for an older parent or a spouse. Many people who care for older friends or family are also caring for children. Many of these people also work. So, this generation must find ways to cope with the stress of juggling multiple responsibilities.
Who is a caregiver? The term caregiver refers to anyone who routinely helps others who have special medical needs. “Formal” caregivers are volunteers or paid employees connected to the social service or health care systems. The term “informal caregiver” refers to family members and friends, who are the primary source of care for nearly three-quarters of the impaired older adults who live in the community. Caregivers assist with such basic tasks as bathing, dressing, preparing meals and shopping. Some have the added responsibilities of administering medications, making sure that an immobile person is turned frequently to avoid developing pressure sores, and other tasks related to the older person’s illness or disability. Every situation differs.
Although taking care of an older parent, friend, or family member can be an enriching and fulfilling experience, it can also be a very emotionally and physically challenging experience.
The hardships caregiving can create will at times produce negative emotions.
The range of emotions caregivers may experience include:
1. Guilt: Many caregivers do not ask for assistance from friends, family, or outside agencies because they may feel like it is a sign of weakness or that the person has not tried hard enough to make things work. This can often lead to further exhaustion and poor health.
2. Depression can occur when caregivers may begin to feel powerless or helpless to really help the person they are caring for, or sad about the loss of the ability to maintain the same type of relationship they once had with the loved one that they are caring for.
3. Rage or anger toward the person the caregiver is caring for.
Sometimes we are so deeply concerned about the well-being of the person for whom we are caring, that we forget our own needs. We "burn the candle at both ends" and become exhausted, emotionally stressed or ill, compromising our own quality of life and our ability to care for our family member.
You’ve got to take care of yourself in order to care for someone else.
Caregiving may be putting too much stress on you if you have any of the following symptoms:
- feeling overwhelmed
- sleeping too much or too little
- gaining or losing a lot of weight
- feeling tired most of the time
- loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- becoming easily irritated or angered feeling
- constantly worried
- often feeling sad
- frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical problems
- abuse of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs
What are some of the best methods to deal with the stress and maintain health?
Today, there are many outlets that can assist to meet multiple demands. The most effective ways of dealing with stress often include taking care of your emotional needs and prioritizing and planning your activities. So seek out the support that you need from family, friends or support groups. Remember that you probably can’t do everything that you’d like to. Figure out what’s most important to you and what you must do immediately. Put off things that can wait.
This may involve decreasing expectations of yourself: taking one day at a time, not feeling guilty and knowing that it’s OK if you can’t do everything. You may seek emotional support from family members, friends or support groups. Using humor and maintaining a positive attitude also can help you cope. This can help improve your ability to manage multiple family demands and increase your sense of well-being.
Prioritizing short-term and long-term activities can help you deal with multiple roles. Prioritization helps you figure out not only what is really important, but also what you must take care of immediately and what you can postpone. Planning based on priorities, such as coordinating the work and school schedules and scheduling family events in advance, also can be very helpful. People who prioritize and plan have an easier time juggling family demands and feel happier.
This can entail either reducing your involvement in activities or increasing other people’s involvement to help meet demands. At home, becoming less involved might mean cutting back on some activities, such as missing soccer games or piano recitals. But research has shown that withdrawing generally does not improve a person’s ability to manage multiple demands. It actually may make matters worse. A person’s well-being may suffer due to decreasing family activities.
On the other hand, increasing others’ involvement has been shown to help balance multiple family demands. Some examples of coping this way include enlisting the help of friends and family, hiring someone to clean the house or asking grandparents to watch the kids occasionally.
Knowing that you’re not in it alone can be a source of relief, help you keep things in perspective and maintain a positive attitude. You may want to meet regularly with a friend or join a support group, which can offer:
- an empathetic and nonjudgmental environment for sharing feelings, such as guilt, frustration, impatience, inadequacy and anger, that people who are not in your situation may not understand
- encouragement to tackle the responsibilities and difficult decisions involved in care giving
- practical advice and education on aging or for specific diseases or conditions
- a chance to laugh and release stress through humor
Eating right, exercising regularly, and getting adequate rest will keep you physically and emotionally healthy. Visit your doctor on a regular basis and keep up with important screenings, such as blood pressure or breast exams. Avoid drinking alcohol as a way to cope with the stress of care giving, and keep a look out for symptoms of depression.
Hobbies, sports, books, music, a relaxing bath—such activities help release caregiver tension. If you have trouble just walking away, consider scheduling “me” time and honor the engagement as if it were an important appointment. Maintain your social life—friends are not only a source of support, but also a source of stress-busting fun.
As we have learned from this course, taking care of yourself, communicating openly with your loved ones, and seeking outside support can help alleviate the stress of caregiving and ensure a brighter future for you and your loved ones.
Please remember your employee assistance program is staffed with trained counselors and professionals capable of providinge confidential assistance at no cost to employees and their family members 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.