As loved ones begin to age, many will take on the honorable role of becoming a caregiver. However, caring for an older adult can be time-consuming, reducing the ability to address your own needs. In fact, Home Instead Senior Care found that 63 percent of family caregivers said caring for their aging loved ones made it more difficult to care for themselves.
With this in mind, Home Instead encourages caregivers to take a minute to recognize and embrace their own feelings and needs. It can be difficult to watch your aging parent or loved one go through the trials of getting older without it taking a toll on your own health. It’s natural to feel anxious, guilty or sad as a family caregiver. In fact, 53 percent of family caregivers admit to feelings of major depression.
That is why it’s critical to find a balance between your caregiving responsibilities and your personal needs. When you’re on a plane, flight attendants always emphasize that, in the case of an emergency, adults should secure their own oxygen masks before helping children. This is because the adult won’t be able to help if they do not have the strength themselves.
Taking care of an older adult is similar: it’s not selfish to take care of yourself first so you are well enough to take care of them.
If you or someone you know is feeling the pressure of being a family caregiver, here are some tips from Lakelyn Hogan, Home Instead Senior Care gerontologist and caregiver advocate, to help overcome the feelings that can get in the way of enjoying time spent with family.
* Identify and accept feelings of guilt. Recognize that feelings of guilt are common – so common, in fact, that 85 percent of caregivers have reported such feelings have taken a toll on their mental health.
* Find support. Go to supportive family and friends to talk about your emotions. There are also many types of professional support groups available. Discussing your emotions is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of self-care and awareness. According to a 2015 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, approximately 34.2 million Americans had provided unpaid care to an adult 50 or older in the last year, making it likely that someone else you know is going through the same things you are.
* Be kind to yourself. Remember that you are doing the best you can and be proud of that. For humans, guilt is a natural emotion that can make it harder to see the bigger picture. Like clouds on a rainy day, the feelings you are experiencing will pass.
* Create an action plan. Take a moment to reflect on why you might be having feelings of guilt. Is caregiving preventing you from doing something you want to do or coming between you and something you value? Create a plan and set a realistic goal for yourself to accomplish these things and relieve yourself of some of your guilt.
* Make time for yourself. While caregiving can be time-consuming, you should never lose sight of what makes you, you. Carve out time to take a long walk, meet with a friend for coffee, or cross off steps in your action plan. In the long run, having just 30 minutes a day to yourself will benefit your physical and mental health.
Remember, you are not in this alone. Try to set aside time for yourself and lean on others for support.