Although it’s highly gratifying, being an informal caregiver can also be a physically and emotionally demanding job as the days transition into weeks, months, and even years. In general, caregivers who pay attention to their mental, physical and emotional health are better equipped to take on the challenges of supporting an aging friend or relative. If you are currently serving as a caregiver, here are some ways to stay mentally sharp and refreshed even when nothing else seems to be going right.
How Stress Affects Caregivers
When allowed to persist, caregiver stress can affect your entire body, mentally as well as physically. Common physical signs of chronic stress include:
- Low energy
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Upset stomach, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea
The emotional and mental toll of caregiving often causes these symptoms:
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Negative feelings such as guilt, anger, resentment, and hopelessness
If not addressed, caregiver stress can morph into bull-blown caregiver burnout, which then places the health and well-being of both the caregiver and care recipient at risk.
Good Mental Health Habits for Caregivers
Start by identifying how stress affects your body. Next, determine what caregiving events or situations cause you to feel that way. Once you know which situations cause you the most stress – for instance, trying to convince your aging mother to eat better – you’ll be prepared to cope with those when they happen or avoid them altogether.
Other healthy ways for caregivers to mentally unwind include:
Kick negative feelings to the curb
Try not to feel bad about experiencing negative emotions. For instance, you may resent having to remind your father to take his medication as prescribed and then feel guilty about it. When that happens, it’s natural to think that other caregivers wouldn’t be annoyed with their aging parent.
However, that type of guilt is untrue and unproductive. Allowing yourself to notice your feelings without judging them as good or bad lets you dial down the stress and feel more in control.
Focus on the positives
When you take time to notice positive moments in your day, your overall perception of that day will become much better. Use a caregiving journal to record at least one thing each day or week that was positive – for example, getting Mom to eat everything on her dinner plate or the fact it was sunny when you took Dad for his walk. Even if it’s something minor, the experience is real and one that could start changing how you view life.
Don’t neglect your physical health
Improving your physical well-being is one of the most comprehensive ways to support your mental health. Here’s how to keep your body and mind strong and resilient:
- Exercise daily
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Get enough sleep
- Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs
- Practice relaxation exercises
There’s strength in numbers
One of the golden rules of caregiving is never to go it alone. As an easy-to-access resource, a caregiver support group can help you connect with others who have faced similar challenges and understand your concerns. And although it may feel like you don’t have time to stay in touch with friends, meeting with them at least once a month can do wonders for your mental health and well-being.
When you need to take a break or merely someone to talk to, other sources of caregiver relief include:
- Spouse or partner
- Faith leaders
- Community volunteers that work with the aging
- Licensed mental health counselor
- Professional respite caregiver from a reputable home care provider
Your Trusted In-Home Respite Care Source in South Bend, IN
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At Senior1Care, we understand that having a caregiver in your loved one’s home is a decision that requires trust. Our goal is to build relationships with clients by listening to their needs and providing the highest level of quality care possible. We are committed to helping your loved ones maintain their well-being, independence, and comfort. To learn more about our flexible caregiving options or schedule a FREE assessment for a senior in the greater South Bend, IN, area, visit us by clicking here now.