Think about it: what kind of person devotes a huge amount of time, energy and resources to another person; someone who possibly doesn't even appreciate your efforts? What kind of person passes up promotions, nights out, vacations, and even just a simple walk in the park to take care of their loved one?
What type of person often sacrifices his/her most productive hours, and even years to care for a loved one who cannot care for their own needs? Just one type of person: a caregiver!
We all know caregiving is hard. It is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. As caregivers we are constantly being told we need to find time to take care of ourselves. We know that taking care of ourselves is essential for being a good caregiver. But most of us have a difficult time letting go of the 'caregiver' mindset. Being a caregiver for someone with a progressive chronic condition is a role that can last years. That timespan creates patterns and behaviors that are almost ingrained in us. Oftentimes caregivers find that they are incapable of 'letting go'. Instead they develop a laser focus on the chronic current issues, and even add baggage with the 'what ifs'...what if mom falls, what if my dad doesn't get along with the caregiver, what if...
How can we switch that mindset?
Focus on what you can control. You can control your behavior, your emotions and reactions and what you choose to do about a situation. You can focus on doing your best to comfort and care for your loved one. But you need to let go of those things that are out of your control. We cannot do it all; although we try! It can help to set limits and boundaries with your loved one and with other family members. We need to rely on our 'gut' feeling to tell us when we are close to reaching our limit. Don't ignore the feeling. When you are continuously tired, irritable, or find yourself having difficulty making your own decisions because you are too overwhelmed, it is time to pay attention to yourself. Setting boundaries will give you back control over your caregiving situation and may improve your relationship with your loved one.
Believe that you are worth it. We get so caught up in caring for our loved one that we neglect our own physical and emotional needs. But as the saying goes, you can't take care of someone else unless you are taking care of yourself. We need to understand and believe that good self-care is essential to being a good caregiver. Caregivers report high incidences of depression, anxiety, irritability, substance abuse weight changes and sleep changes. The combination of emotional stress and the physical demands of caregiving can put us at significant risk for health problems. If you recognize any of these symptoms:
Get connected. Find out what services and caregiving resources are in your community
Join a support group and/or seek social support from family and friends
Get an appointment with your doctor
Get over the guilt and forgive yourself for your imperfections. Guilt is the most common emotion that caregivers have. We are always asking ourselves, "Have I done enough?", "What else should I be doing?", "Can I do more?" But remember we are just human and although our intentions are good, our time, resources, and skills are limited. Unhealthy feelings of guilt can lead to feelings of shame which can be debilitating and immobilizing. We need to know that taking time for ourselves is not selfish but essential to be a good caregiver.