Every year, over 40 million Americans serve as informal (unpaid) caregivers within their given communities, and a vast majority take care of aging in place relatives. Caregiving is not only physically demanding and time consuming, it can also have a detrimental effect on one’s emotional and mental health. Anxiety and depression are common, and some informal caregivers turn to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. In honor of Mental Health Month, here are 4 reliable ways for caregivers to stay mentally strong.
How Caregiving Affects Mental Health
There are many positive mental aspects of caregiving, like feeling wanted and appreciated because someone you care about is benefitting from your efforts. But on the flip-side, caregiving can have a negative impact on one’s psychological wellbeing if they’re not careful.
For example, the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) points out that an estimated 40 to 70% of all informal caregivers end up with clinical signs of depression. For those who care for seniors with dementia, the odds are higher for experiencing depression and mental exhaustion.
Here are some other ways that caregiving can have a detrimental effect on one’s mind:
- High levels of frustration and stress
- Low self-esteem
- Anger and resentment
- Becoming more forgetful
- Losing interest in activities and relationships once enjoyed
If not dealt with promptly, the physical and emotional rigors of caregiving can cause caregiver stress and even full-blown caregiver fatigue.
4 Mental Health Tips for Caregivers
Mental health experts recommend protecting yourself as a caregiver in these 4 ways:
Set Realistic Goals
In all honesty, no matter how hard you try your loved one’s condition will eventually worsen. That’s just a normal part of the aging process, so stop beating yourself over the head. Instead, set realistic goals each week based on the care you can provide, and put off less-important tasks for another day.
For example, getting mom to her cardiac rehab appointment is important, while pulling those weeds in her flower beds can wait until next weekend. Focus on making your senior feel more comfortable without trying to do everything at once.
Take Care of Yourself
If your elderly father with dementia yelled at you today, you’ll need to decompress after leaving his home. Regular exercise is a great stress-reliever that also strengthens immunity, facilitates tissue repair, promotes a better night’s sleep and builds self-esteem. Yoga and Tai Chi are beneficial forms of exercise that also focus on mental health. Other ways to care for yourself include:
- Eating a nutrient-rich diet
- Sleeping 7 to 8 hours per day
- Not abusing food, drugs or alcohol
- Spending quality time with your kids, spouse or partner
- Prayer and meditation
- Getting an annual physical
Keeping negative feelings bottled up inside just lets them fester. Instead, find positive conduits for releasing those pent-up emotions by:
- Meeting with a licensed therapist or counselor
- Speaking to a clergy member
- Keeping a daily journal
- Joining a caregiver support group or online forum
And finally, you’re not a failure just because you need to ask others for some help. Know your limitations and take a well-deserved break before burnout has a chance to set in. These are several sources of “respite” care that you can “tap into”:
- Trustworthy family members, neighbors or friends
- Volunteers that work with seniors
- Local Agency on Aging
- Adult daycare
- Meal delivery services like Silver Cuisine or Diet-to-Go
- Professional respite caregiver from a licensed home care agency
Need a Mental Break? Let us Lend a Hand
Caring for an aging loved one is highly rewarding, but it can also be physically, emotionally and mentally draining. Don’t push yourself to the breaking point. When you need a break, contact Caring At Home. We’ll send one of our highly trained and carefully screened respite caregivers right over. As a fully licensed and insured home care agency, you can rest assured that our compassionate caregivers will provide the nurturing your senior needs to keep them aging comfortably in place right where they want to be.
With a focus on your loved one’s quality of life, our reliable in-home services include light housekeeping, personal hygiene, meals, medication reminders, and companionship. All our family trusted amenities can be individually combined into an affordable package that’ll restore your peace of mind! To learn more about Caring At Home now, or to book a FREE in-home consultation for a senior, please visit us online today.