Caregiving is an incredibly rewarding experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. Between disrupting your own routine and keeping up with the needs of another person, caregiving adds a lot of stress to everyday life. While it can feel like there’s no time to take care of yourself between life’s many demands, that’s exactly what caregivers need to do to avoid burnout.
If you’re feeling emotionally or physically worn out from caring for a loved one, you may be experiencing caregiver stress. According to the Office on Women’s Health, the symptoms of caregiver stress include irritability, inattentiveness, fatigue, weight loss, sleep changes, headaches and body aches, and feeling overwhelmed or isolated. If left unchecked, the stress could contribute to depression, anxiety, obesity, and other health problems.
Here are five ways to find relief when caregiver stress levels are rising:
1. Arrange respite care
Caregiving means being on duty 24/7, but sometimes you just need a break. Coordinating a weekend or week of respite care at a senior living facility allows you to take time off while ensuring your loved one is attended to. If you can’t afford traditional respite care, adult day care or church-sponsored respite care can offer a more affordable alternative.
2. Make use of FMLA
Caregivers who are eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for an ailing family member. FMLA is invaluable if your loved one experiences an illness or injury and temporarily requires more intensive care. Rather than exhausting yourself trying to keep up with work and caregiving, you can take time off and focus your energy on what’s important.
3. Take care of your health
Without prioritizing your own health, you won’t have the energy to keep up with the demands of caregiving. Set aside adequate time for sleep each night and find ways to fit exercise in your daily schedule. Going on walks with your loved one is a great way to get both of you moving, but more vigorous exercise is also important.
If you can’t block out an entire 30 minutes to an hour for a workout, try incorporating mini-workouts throughout the day. Consider setting aside time for meal prep or subscribing to a food box to keep meals both healthy and convenient.
4. Improve your environment
Working in a messy environment only makes caregiving more difficult and stress-inducing. Turning your family member’s living space into a stress-free haven will improve both your mood and hers. Spend a day deep cleaning and packing away unnecessary clutter. Once you have a clean slate, add soothing features like house plants or essential oil diffusers and swap a chattering television for relaxing music.
5. Ask for help
Sometimes caregiving is simply too much for one person to handle alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Perhaps a church volunteer could provide an hour of house cleaning once a week, or another family member can handle the grocery shopping. If you’re living separately from the person you’re caring for, ask your spouse and children to take on more of the upkeep at home so you only have to maintain one house. When it’s emotional help you need, use the Family Caregiver Alliance’s navigator to find a caregiver support group in your area.
Caregiving requires your full attention and ability. If you’re tired and overworked, you’re more likely to make a medication error or another mistake that puts your loved one’s well-being at risk. Not to mention, you won’t be able to give your family member the compassion and patience they deserve. When you take care of your own needs and schedule time off, you’re able to give your all to caregiving and enjoy the time spent with your family member.
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