You need to take care of you.
If you’re feeling stressed out in your caregiving role, you’re not alone, but it doesn’t mean you should suffer caregiver burnout to the point of depression. It happens more often than you may think: According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, between 40 to 70 percent of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. One quarter to one half of those studied meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression and are at risk for emotional, mental and physical health problems.
By nature, caregivers are giving people who often don’t take time to address their own needs. But how well you take care of yourself can have a huge impact not only on your overall well-being, but on the person you most care about. Here, seven ways to de-stress and take care of you.
1. Shift your focus.
By allowing time to focus on you, you’re more apt to recognize early signs of chronic stress and caregiver burnout, explains psychologist Dr. Janet Scarborough Civitelli, who has worked with families and caregivers in hospitals and community mental health settings. “Many people don’t realize how gradually stress and burnout can creep up, or recognize the need for self-care until it’s too late," Civitelli says. "Half the battle is being proactive and preventing burnout, which is better than needing to recover from it later.”
2. Set aside "you" time.
Civitelli suggests, “Even when you don’t feel you ‘need’ it because you’re a caregiver, you need it! Take some time doing something you love.” Having something visibly written on your calendar, like a book club meeting, will be a reminder that you’ve committed that time. Stick to it.
3. Look for your own support.
Caregiver support programs are available through hospitals, mental health agencies, and churches. Sharing your experiences with other caregivers will help you feel less alone and will “normalize” common feelings of helplessness, sadness, burnout, and frustration. If you believe you are depressed or anxious, you may want to seek a therapist’s help.
4. Commit to exercise and relaxation.
Studies have shown exercise has a positive effect on stress. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found that in some cases where people suffered from symptoms of depression and anxiety, exercise was just as effective as medication to help them feel better. Likewise, relaxing activities can decrease stress; deep breathing in yoga and meditation can even reduce your heart rate. Sign up for a class and find your Zen.
5. Rejuvenate and recharge.
Some people find that enjoying nature and outdoor activities is very rejuvenating, or they stimulate their senses by visiting a museum, attending a concert, or taking a cooking class. What works for you? You might renew and energize after getting a massage or other pampering, feel-good experiences.
6. Spend time with pets.
Animals aren’t demanding of our time—all they want is to be with and love us, even when we’re cranky. They've been shown to offer health benefits to humans, too; studies from the National Institute of Health have found that pet ownership can actually improve cardiovascular health. Make a point of spending more time with your pets, or a neighbor's; take longer walks with your dog or vow to add more play-time for your cat.
7. Start socializing more.
Caregivers spend so much time caring for loved ones that they often neglect to socialize with friends. “Humans are naturally social, so isolation is a risk factor for burnout and depression,” cautions Dr. Civitelli. “You don’t want your world to narrow to the point where all you ever do is work and provide care. There also has to be time for pleasure and being with people who can build you up.”