Each November, we celebrate National Family Caregivers Month by honoring caregivers across the U.S. This is a time to recognize the efforts of family members caring for a loved one and call attention to the need for caregiver support. For any number of reasons, those who take care of others often neglect their own well-being. The Calli Institute wants to shine a light on this issue and offer tips on self-care for the caregiver.
Many times, caring for an older or disabled loved one is a family responsibility. These caregivers also work but carve out time to help vulnerable or ailing relatives, usually providing care for several years. Each day, a family caregiver assists or performs a host of duties as an act of kindness or devotion to an aging parent or other family member with physical, intellectual, or developmental limitations.
Caregiver responsibilities may include but are not limited to:
Over the last handful of years, the number of caregivers in the U.S. has significantly increased. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, the number of Americans providing unpaid care jumped from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020.
Additionally, in that five-year span, more Americans are providing care for more than one person, and more are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. More than half (61 percent) work in addition to providing care. And almost one quarter report that caregiving has caused their own health to decline.
Caring for others — especially loved ones — is a rewarding yet challenging endeavor. Over time, the physical and emotional impact can build and become overwhelming. And the added stress of knowing that your loved one’s condition may not improve can weigh heavy. As such, caregivers are particularly vulnerable to health issues of their own, including exhaustion and burnout.
To protect your own well-being, be mindful of some of the signs of stress, exhaustion, and burnout:
Caregivers often struggle to find a balance between self-care and the care they provide for others. And many times, caregivers may not understand the need for or ways to practice self-care, so doing so falls by the wayside. But neglecting self-care can be harmful to both the caregiver and the person for whom they care.
As the saying goes, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” So, it’s important to fulfill your own needs to ensure you’re able to support the needs of others. Making yourself a priority may feel like a selfish act, but it is the single most important thing you can do for your own well-being and for the quality of care you provide.
Caregiver burnout occurs when one’s physical and emotional health suffers as the result of caring for others. But being a caregiver shouldn’t take over your life, and there are many things you can do — for yourself — to find a balance and avoid exhaustion.
Focus on the positives. You give care to help your loved one or because doing so aligns with your personal values. Try to remember the reason you became a caregiver and use that for motivation. Consider the relationships you’ve developed or how you’ve become a stronger or more sympathetic person as a result.
Celebrate the simple things. Even if you know your loved one may not get better, the love and support you provide makes a difference. So, celebrate the smiles and know that your loved one is receiving the compassion and care they need.
Share responsibility and accept help. Divvy up caregiving tasks with other family members who can assist. And if someone offers to help, don’t be afraid to accept it. Even the smallest tasks can help lift a heavy weight.
Find your enjoyment. Continue to participate in hobbies and activities you enjoy to find balance between responsibility and relaxation. Read a good book, watch a favorite movie, take a warm bath, create art. Find what you love and do it.
Laugh. Laughter is a natural stress reliever. So, hang out with friends, listen to or attend a comedy show, or watch a sitcom to help laugh away potential anxiety.
These are simply a few of the virtually endless tips on self-care for the caregiver. But we wanted to give you some ideas to get you started. Again, caring for others is a rewarding act, but be sure you don’t become overwhelmed. Remember to take care of yourself so that you can properly care for others. If your well-being begins to suffer and you’re unsure where to turn, please reach out to us. The Calli Institute offers a balanced approach to wellness, and we want to empower you to realize your path to fulfillment and self-care.