Caring for an aging in place elderly loved one is emotionally rewarding, but it can also be very demanding and stressful. A lot of informal caregivers get so caught up in the physical aspects of caregiving that they forget about the mental side. But as a family caregiver, looking out for your mental health and wellbeing is just as important as taking physical precautions. When you don’t, it leaves you exposed to emotional stress and mental fatigue. What follows are several ways to ensure that your mental health remains strong through the inevitable ups and downs.
How Stress Affects Family Caregivers
In response to stress, our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline, initiating a cascade of physiological events known as the “fight-or-flight” response. Typically, this response only lasts for a few minutes and then the body resumes its normal activities.
But when your body stays in fight-or-flight mode for too long it can disrupt normal activities and lead to chronic physical and emotional fatigue- like when you’re caring for someone with a terminal illness who’s not getting any better no matter what you do.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some of the mental signs of caregiver stress:
- Constant worry
- Losing interest in activities once enjoyed
- Feeling sad all the time
Left unaddressed, mental exhaustion can be just as bad as physical exhaustion. And neither is going to help your loved one get the care they need until you start taking better care of yourself.
Why Am I Feeling This Way?
Begin by identifying how stress feels to you. Next, figure out what events or situations (stressors) are triggering those negative feelings. For example, you may notice yourself feeling stressed out anytime your diabetic mother keeps eating ice cream after you’ve asked her a thousand times not to.
Or, it might happen whenever you take your father to the local cancer center for his chemo treatment because you’re so worried about him. Once you’ve identified your stressors, you’ll be much better equipped to cope with, or even avoid, them the next time.
Practice these Good Mental Health Habits
In addition to identifying and trying to avoid specific caregiving stressors, here are some other good mental health habits to practice:
Focus on the Positives
No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop the aging process. Take a few minutes each day to focus on the positives, like how your efforts are making your loved one happier and more comfortable – even when dad complains that you don’t cook “like mom used to”. Start keeping a gratitude journal and record in it each day something that you’re thankful for. For example, having healthy children or getting dad’s bathroom remodeled so that it’s safer for him to use.
You may get resentful for having to constantly remind your mother to take her diabetes medicine and check her blood sugar, but don’t feel guilty afterwards because you felt that way. Allow yourself to identify your feelings without judging them as being either good or bad. You will see your stress level start going down as a result.
Seek Strength from Others
Caregiving can sometimes be a thankless and lonely job but walling yourself off from others is not the solution. Instead, reach out to those around you for support, including family members, community volunteers and caregiver support groups. Something like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is also a great online resource for family caregivers.
Promptly Find Reliable In-Home Caregiving Assistance Here
When you need to take a “mental health” break from your caregiving duties, you can also contact First in Care Home Health Agency and we’ll do the rest. We are a fully licensed and insured home care agency. The compassionate respite caregivers at First in Care are highly trained on how to keep seniors aging safely and comfortably in place. Our goal is maintaining your loved one’s quality of life while providing them with the dignity and independence they deserve.
Our agency’s full menu of in-home services includes personal care, dementia care, respite care and even 24-hour care. And, all our family trusted amenities can be individually personalized into an affordable package that’ll restore your peace of mind! To learn more about First in Care today, or to schedule a FREE initial screening for a senior in our service area now, please visit: www.firstincare.com.