Approximately 43.5 million Americans provide informal, unpaid medical care to a child or adult. That’s roughly one in seven adults keeping track of medications, doctors’ appointments, nutrition, emotional support and more for someone besides themselves.
How can someone safely provide care for another person during an economic crisis, a global pandemic, rising racial injustice and the constant threat of more frightening news every day?
For some, the answer may lie in strengthening resolve and improving resiliency by identifying available support and resources. The truth is that no one can handle these overwhelming expectations alone or without proper attention to self-care.
The most crucial advice I give to caregivers is similar to handling an emergency on an airplane: You must put your oxygen mask on first before helping your neighbor. You cannot care for others until you care for yourself.
Effective Caregiving Strategies for Preserving Mental Health
Recognize Signs of Burnout
Depression and mental illness can have catastrophic effects on overall health. The best medicine is prevention, and knowing when it’s time to take a step back can save you and your loved ones from an environment of chaos.
Burnout occurs when stress and an overwhelming list of responsibilities begin to infringe on your capability to perform the tasks you need to do and the activities you want to do.
Caregivers may fear not having enough time or support to handle the responsibilities of their patient or loved one. However, recognizing and accepting that fear is the first step to overcoming it. A caregiver cannot embrace support from others until they identify when an obligation is outside their capabilities.
Keep Communication Open
A scary aspect of caregiving is feeling the need to pretend you’re more durable than the person in your care.
Caregivers are only human, and their work is nothing short of amazing. You should take the time to acknowledge your accomplishments and reach out when the next hill seems a bit too steep to climb on your own.
Talk with your partner, health care provider, a friend or a therapist. The people you trust in your life will set you on a path to developing strategies and solutions for managing your time and responsibilities.
Implement Healthy Lifestyle Changes
In an ever-evolving world of technology, media, work obligations and family care, it can be difficult enough to find time for a cup of coffee, much less a healthy diet and eight hours of sleep.
However, the importance of small and achievable shifts to daily habits cannot be understated. Minor changes to nutrition, plus a substantial intake of water, may offer a massive improvement to your daily routine.
Caregivers should also explore mindfulness techniques to examine their thoughts and identify sources of stress. Journaling, meditation and yoga are proven to reduce stress and may better prepare you for handling the unexpected.
Organize and Prepare a Strategy
One of the essential skills for a caregiver is time management. Employing a planner, calendar app or a system of reminders can be invaluable for handling the many time-sensitive responsibilities of a caregiver.
It’s important not to become overwhelmed with an abundance of reminders, but improving organization can have a substantial impact on mental health and productivity.
Many apps are available to help caregivers stay organized. In a 2015 study of 112 caregivers, 62% endorsed the potential benefit of caregiving technologies in preventing burnout. Scheduling and preparing for upcoming caregiving duties also allows you to identify when to make time for yourself.
Utilize Support Groups and Mental Health Resources
The pandemic challenges our peace of mind, and right now mental health is more important than ever. Remember to breathe, spend time outside and communicate with your loved ones. There is always help when you need it.
These organizations offer resources such as support groups, financial assistance and respite care:
National Family Caregiver Support Program: Established in 2000, the NFCSP offers multiple services by providing grants to states and territories.
Family Caregiver Alliance: The Family Care Navigator locates programs and services for caregivers and their loved ones by state.
Lifespan Respite Care Program: This program works to provide respite care for caregivers across multiple states.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: The ADAA offers support groups for caregivers facing burnout and a helpful list of signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression in caregivers.
National Alliance for Caregiving: The NAC has resource guides for caregivers struggling with all aspects of care and has partnered with caregiving associations to provide many mental health resources.
The pandemic upended our approach to caregiving, but the spirit of community and mental wellness must endure. Caregiving isn’t just about medical care; it’s an extension of the love and support every person has for another.
Caregiving is about community, and as we rebuild from the pandemic, we must remember that we do not face the journey alone.