Stress Reduction for Caregivers
By Linda Dieffenbach, BSW, RMT
Caregivers come in many different forms – parents, teachers, counselors, medical professionals, healers, family and friends… the list goes on. These compassionate people dedicate themselves to caring for the needs of others, whether it is taking care of an ill family member, raising a child, or supporting our community through their professional services.
Caregivers face high levels of chronic stress and intense emotional ups and downs. One commonality among caregivers is that they oftentimes focus so much energy and attention on caring for others that they neglect their own needs and, as a result, their health and well-being begin to suffer. It is an extremely common to see a caregiver end up dealing with a very serious health condition or be hospitalized while taking care of someone else because they failed to make time to manage their stress and tend to their own needs.
Does this sound familiar?
If you are a caregiver, you know all too well how challenging it can be to balance the demands and needs of other people with your own needs.
As a caregiver, you give so much of your love, energy and time to others that you often find yourself feeling tense, overwhelmed, and drained of energy. You may even find that your health is suffering from the strain. After a while you may even start to resent those who you take care of.
It is difficult to balance the needs of others with your own, whether you are caring for children, parents, students or patients, but it is necessary. When you put everyone else’s needs before your own, it compromises your own health and well-being (not to mention your effectiveness as a caregiver). Just as you are instructed to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting others in an airplane emergency, your self-care needs must be a priority over everyone else or you will lose your ability to be effective as a caregiver.
“Compassion fatigue” or “Caregiver fatigue” poses a very real health risk facing people who are in care-giving roles.
Signs of Caregiver Fatigue Include:
- Emotional, Mental and/or Physical Exhaustion
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Anxiety and/or Depression
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excess alcohol consumption or use of sleep medications
- Resentment and/or anger towards person/persons you care for
- Getting sick more often
- Sense of helplessness or hopelessness
- Difficulty relaxing ~ hyper-vigilance
How can I prevent Caregiver Fatigue?
The good news is that there are ways in which you can help yourself. Pushing yourself through it will not serve you.
The first step is to recognize that there is a serious risk to your health and well-being. This awareness empowers you to be able to take action now to prevent adverse health problems in the future. You do not want to wait until it becomes a problem before you take action.
It is also important to understand the importance of your own self-care ~ and recognize your personal attitudes and beliefs that may be preventing you from making your well-being a priority. These may include the beliefs that making yourself a priority is selfish, that your value and worth is tied to being a caregiver, or that there is no help (or time) available. There are many ingrained personal and social attitudes beliefs that can make it challenging for caregivers to prioritize their own self-care. Knowing which ones you carry is the key to unlocking them.
Yes, you are stressed out and overwhelmed. Yes, you may be thinking “How the heck can I add one more thing onto my plate right now??? I don’t have time for me.” Trust me. Taking the time for you will help you now and in the long run. It will help you to manage the stress, reduce the overwhelm, feel better AND be more effective as a caregiver. And it doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time.
Self-Care Tools and Strategies:
Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Ask for and accept help. You do not have to do it all – and you shouldn’t. Find people and resources that can pitch in and help you through the day.
2. Simplify and Prioritize. Again, you don’t have to do it all. Take a look at the things that you manage each day. What are the priorities? Can is wait? What can be delegated? Who can help? What can be eliminated?
3. Take breaks. If you are caring for a loved one, schedule time where someone else can take over so you can take a break – use that time to do something that feels good. Take a hot bath. Walk in the woods. Watch a silly movie. Read. Meditate. Do Yoga. Go out with friends. If you are in a caring profession, take your breaks and leave the office. Leave your job at work. Use your vacation time.
4. Take care of your body. You know the drill – Get fresh air and exercise. Eat healthy and nourishing foods. Sleep. Get massage or Reiki. Schedule your well-visits and preventative care visits with your doctor’s and dentist. Your body is the only vehicle you will ever have to get you through this life. Take care of it so it doesn’t break down on you.
5. Get support. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Find or create a support system to help you through the challenges and emotional turmoil that comes with caregiving. See a counselor or healer, join a support group, talk to supportive friends and family.
There are many small steps that you can take to help support you through each day. Create and implement a strategy, schedule time for yourself, and know that your needs are important.
If you need help, we are hear to support you. Give us a call (484-354-0499) or visit our services page to learn about our offerings and see what options are available.
About Linda Dieffenbach:
Linda has over 15 years experience as an energy healer, coach and personal development expert. She specializes in empowering you to overcome the patterns and habits that are keeping you feeling stuck and overwhelmed with your life. Her areas of training and expertise include personal empowerment, self-care skills, stress management, healthy relationships, effective communication, suicide prevention, and trauma. To learn more about Linda, click here. Interested in working with Linda? Click here.