Caregivers include professionals who are paid to provide care to individuals, both in health care facilities and in home settings, and also unpaid individuals who provide care to a loved family member or friend. Individuals receiving care may be ill, disabled, aging, or suffer from an emotional/intellectual disability. Caregivers may experience a mixture of feelings, including fatigue, isolation, stress, and guilt. On the one hand, providing care for a loved one is rewarding and on the other, it can be highly stressful.
Research has shown that caregivers often report difficulty making time for themselves, have an unbalanced work/family/life schedule, and do not know how to manage stress. Caregivers may experience anger (personal life on hold), fear (financial difficulties), depression (watching loved ones in pain/age), guilt (not providing better care), loneliness (less interaction opportunities with others), and/or exhaustion (inconsistent sleep schedule). Other symptoms of burnout include difficulty concentrating, weakened immune system, trouble sleeping, and increased feelings of resentment.
Caregivers who do not take adequate and appropriate care of themselves often experience burnout and increased susceptibility to mental, emotional, and physical distress. Caregivers may consider attending classes taught by a local hospital on caregiving, scheduling time with friends to avoid isolation, seek organizations that specialize in helping caregivers, ask for help from other family and friends, and most importantly—developing self-compassion. Individuals who are most compassionate are less likely to criticize themselves and are better able to self-soothe and experience comfort during difficult transitions. Equally important is maintaining a self-care routine to avoid becoming emotionally overwhelmed. For example, preparing nutrition meals, engaging in regular physical activity, striving to sleep 8 hours per night, watching mindless TV shows, reading a book, pursuing interests, and talking to other important people in his/her life.
Other tips for reducing caregiver stress include taking a yoga class, learning deep-breathing strategies, stretching 10 minutes a day, schedule time off from the caregiver, reach out to a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor, and ask for help. Finally, and most importantly, remember that when you take care of yourself, you are NOT being selfish.