November is National Family Caregivers Month, which recognizes the dedication of those who provide around-the-clock care to loved ones. There are over 53 million Americans who are unpaid caregivers to family, friends, and neighbors. Twenty-seven percent, or nearly a third of adult caregivers, are helping someone with a mental illness. Over half of family caregivers are women and more than a million young people, aged 8 to 18, care for an adult relative on a regular basis. Caregiving can often have a significant impact on the life of the caregiver in more ways than one. It can make maintaining your physical and mental health more difficult and may put a strain on work and social life. Providing care around-the-clock can crowd out other areas of your life. To manage stress and prevent burnout:
I. Ask for help
Caregivers often bring stress upon themselves because they won’t allow others to pitch in. You may be surprised how much support you can get just by asking for it. Don’t downplay what you’re going through or worry about being a burden on others. Ask your neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family for the help you need. Most want to help but are not sure how or when. Be specific and ask for help with a certain task or at a particular time
II. Take Care of Yourself
The irony of caregiving is that the person giving so much to others frequently forgets to give themselves the same treatment. Take a few minutes at the end of the day to ask yourself these questions:
- Did I get 7-8 hours of sleep last night?
- Did I eat 3 meals and a snack today?
- Did I drink 8 glasses of water today?
- Did I get any exercise today?
- Did I spend time on an activity I enjoy today?
- Did I spend time with someone other than the person I care for?
If the answer to more than one of these questions is no, it’s time to reevaluate your daily schedule and support. Sleep, proper nutrition, and hobbies are all human necessities, and if you neglect them for too long, you may fall ill yourself.
III. Cultivate outlets for stress
You may spend a significant portion of your time providing care, but it’s important to remember that your identity is so much more than that. Be intentional about keeping your interests alive so you can channel the strain of being a caregiver in a positive way. Even if you can only get away for 5 minutes at a time, use it to do something you enjoy.