Being a caregiver is not easy. I know because I am one. Taking care of a loved one can be rewarding, but also very stressful. According to the “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020” report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), thirty-six percent of family caregivers characterize their situation as highly stressful. It’s only fitting that during November, which is National Family Caregivers Month, that those of us who are caregivers do some self-reflection and make changes if needed so that taking care of our own health and well-being becomes a priority if it isn’t already. Just like the analogy of putting on one’s oxygen mask first before helping others with theirs, we also need to take care of our own health and well-being even when others count on us for care. Caregiving is often done over a prolonged period of time, sometimes even for decades. It is important to not ignore the stresses of caregiving and to ensure one’s personal health and well-being are being addressed – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – to avoid burnout. Our caregiving for others suffers when our own health is not given priority.
Is caregiving taking a toll on you? How does one know? A brief, 18-question caregiver self-assessment called “How Are You?” from the American Medical Association and recommended by the American Psychological Association is a great tool to do a self-assessment.
The AARP and the Alzheimer’s Association also provides a checklist for self-assessment which may indicate caregiver burnout.
- Anger or frustration toward the person you’re caring for
- Denial about your loved one’s condition
- Exhaustion that makes it tough to complete your daily tasks
- Health problems, such as getting sick more often
- Inability to concentrate that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks or causes you to forget appointments
- Irritability and moodiness
- Social withdrawal from friends and activities that you used to enjoy
AARP provides a wealth of tips and resources for caregivers reduce stress and to take better care of themselves. Other resources include Family Caregiver Alliance , a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for family caregivers and the people who receive their care, and the Caregiver Action Network, which provides a Family Caregiver Toolbox with tips, resources, and tools for family caregivers. There are plenty of other great resources, these are just a few to get you started. Explore the links shared which often lead to additional links and resources. It’s almost like a treasure hunt, with plenty of treasure there for the taking.
If you are a caregiver and reading this article, you may be thinking that all of this sounds great, but that you are too stressed to look any further. Please be encouraged to take even 15 minutes to read through some of the resources to see if there is something that might speak to you and lead to small steps towards self-care and ensuring that your own health and well-being is a priority. Being in a caregiver role and knowing several others who are, I know it is sometimes the little things that can make a big difference.