According to recent research, about 21 percent of people in the United States serve as caregivers for someone with an illness or disability. A caregiver is anyone that supports and takes care of a person in need who may not be able to live independently, whether permanently or for a short period.
While caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, it can also be extremely stressful and demanding. It can lead to depression, isolation, and burnout for the caregiver. There are a few things you can do to help a caregiver in your life, or if you are a caregiver, here are some tips to help you care for your well-being.
Helping a Caregiver
Most likely, at some point in your life, you will know someone acting as a caregiver for their loved one. When it comes to offering help, it is normal to say, “Let me know if you need anything,” and genuinely mean it. However, a caregiver may be so focused on their daily tasks or feeling overwhelmed that they cannot let you know what they need.
If this is someone you know well, think about this as you would getting them a gift. What is something they enjoy? If they enjoy going to the movies, you can offer to come to sit with their loved one while they take a break with a new release and some popcorn. Do not be surprised or put off if the caregiver hesitates to leave their loved one. This is an opportunity to think outside the box and gift them a Netflix subscription or offer to make a list of new movies or TV shows you think they will be interested in watching when they have some downtime.
Some other ways to support caregivers:
- Bring over lunch so they can take a break. Include all the dishes and utensils, so there is minimal cleanup.
- If possible, offer to take their loved one out for an hour or two, so they can relax at home
- Help take care of a responsibility that their loved one usually did, like mowing the lawn
- Set up a calendar of care with family members and friends to help with meals, home and yard maintenance, groceries, childcare, and other errands
- Pool together funds for gift cards for gas, food, and groceries
Last, what may help a caregiver the most is showing up with a coffee and lending them an ear. Listen without judgment and advice. This is about the caregiver and giving them time to talk and express whatever they may be feeling.
As a caregiver, feeling angry, frustrated, sad, guilty, or exhausted is natural. Caring for a loved one can sometimes be a full-time job and seem like your top priority. However hard as it may be, putting yourself first and caring for your physical, mental, and emotional well-being should be your first priority. Think of it this way – by taking care of yourself first, you will be able to provide the best care for your loved one.
When it comes to your self-care, it’s crucial that you make the time for yourself and your needs. If you are feeling impatient, have difficulty sleeping or eating, can’t concentrate, and have lost interest in your hobbies, these are signs of stress and depression. There are a few steps you can take to better care for yourself:
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals throughout the day
- Drink plenty of water
- Schedule short breaks and do something you enjoy. This can include reading, taking a walk, going to the gym, etc.
- Listen to relaxing music and learn other relaxation techniques
- Be realistic about what you can accomplish each day
- Let family and friends help you, and be specific about what you need help with
- Allow yourself to cry if you need it. Crying is a way to relieve stress, not a weakness.
- Share how you feel with a trusted friend or join a support group
- Take a few hours each week to do something for yourself, such as getting a massage, taking an art class, or enjoying a bubble bath
- If you are struggling, it is okay to ask for professional help
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. You are caring for someone you love, which is hard work and is making a difference. So, give yourself a break, a pat on the back, and take a breath. You are doing a great job!