Being a caregiver for another person — whether it’s a parent, family member, friend, or neighbor — can be a challenge. Between all the phone calls, doctor appointments, and pharmacy runs, it can be easy to get caught up in advocating for someone else and making sure their needs are met, while at the same time ignoring your own. And with the Baby Boomers advancing in age, and medical advancements helping to extend lives, increasing numbers of people will find themselves in the position of being a caregiver. In fact, approximately 34.2 million Americans provide unpaid care for an adult 50 or older, according to a report from the AARP.
Although caregiving can be a positive experience — specifically, getting to spend time with a loved one — it can also take its toll on you mentally, physically, and financially, increasing your stress levels. Additionally, balancing your own job and family responsibilities with caregiving can leave you so overextended that it could lead to burnout. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent that and ensure you look after yourself, too. Here are three tips from experts:
Know your limits
As tempting as it is to play the martyr and focus all your time, attention, and energy on the person you’re caring for, that is not a sustainable option. Instead, take the time to understand what you are realistically capable of doing. “It can often be helpful to simply acknowledge and accept the limits of what one can do and control and try to enlist help and support when possible,” Adam L. Fried, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Midwestern University tells Thrive Global. “This can include social support for oneself or logistical support for caregiving needs, such as having a neighbor regularly check in on a loved one.”
It’s also important to pace yourself, Sara L. Douglas, Ph.D., a professor of nursing and assistant dean for research at the Case Western Reserve University Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing tells Thrive. While some forms of caregiving come with an endpoint — helping someone who is otherwise healthy recover from knee replacement surgery, for example — oftentimes it ends up being long-term. This makes it especially important to understand and acknowledge your own limits, and not feel guilty about what you cannot get done, Douglas explains.
Decide what’s important
Caregivers tend to worry about everything — something that can easily affect their own mental well-being, Douglas says. If you’re having difficulty prioritizing, it can help to ask someone who is not as involved with the person’s care weigh in and help you decide where to focus your time and energy. “It is easy to become overwhelmed by all of the details involved in caring for — and worrying about — a loved one. Getting assistance in prioritizing what really is important can help you gain control and focus on the major issues that really need your time and attention,” she adds.
And in case you need a reminder, you, as a caregiver are important, so don’t forget about self-care. One way Fried suggests prioritizing yourself is by imagining what you might do if you had an extra 30 or 60 minutes in the day — whether it’s walking, meditating, talking to a friend, or watching a favorite T.V. show — then working on ways to integrate this time into your daily schedule. “Because we already have a jam-packed day, our own self-care often gets downgraded in terms of importance, but setting aside a little bit of time each day that is just for ourselves can make a big difference in stress levels,” he says.
Get feedback from others
Aside from helping you determine what to prioritize, getting feedback and insight from other people close to the person you’re caring for — like their friends or neighbors — can be extremely useful, Douglas says. “By including the observations of others, you can have a more comprehensive view of what is going on with your loved one — something that has been shown to help caregivers feel more confident and less stressed. Using others to provide insight and assistance can be extremely helpful in reducing caregiver burden and stress,” she explains.
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