Caregivers rarely wake up and decide that they are now a caregiver. Often they take on the role because someone they care about needs help.
While the caregiving journey can be very rewarding, caregivers are often not prepared for how challenging their role can be. You can easily become overwhelmed by all the new information you need to know and support you need to provide.
As a caregiver, your relationship with your loved one has not changed, but the activities or roles have. As a caregiver, you may be doing things that your family member did in the past, but can no longer do. These new roles can be challenging and sometimes uncomfortable.
You may feel that in order to be a good son/daughter/spouse/family member/friend for your loved one you need to do everything for them. They may not want anyone else’s help but yours! However, if you spend too much time doing caregiving tasks, you won’t have any time to enjoy your ongoing friendship or family relationship with them.
It is okay to not do everything. There may be tasks you find uncomfortable or you may not have the time to do it all. Caregivers who take on too much risk their own health. It is good and healthy to set limits for yourself. You can ask for help and share tasks.
People often think of caregiving as something that is noble and selfless. While caregiving can be a very positive experience, many caregivers will experience negative emotions. Many caregivers don’t realize that these emotions are a normal part of caregiving and feel guilty for feeling this way.
The following emotions are some of the most common that caregivers will experience. If you are experiencing any of these emotions frequently, you may be stressed.
- Grief. You will experience many losses along your caregiving journey: your relationship with your care recipient will change, you will see someone you care about declining, you may have had to make changes in your personal life to provide care.
- Anger and Resentment. Anger is a normal part of the grieving process. You may feel anger or resentment towards your care recipient, at other family members, at the system, at the illness or at the situation in general. You may be asking ‘why me’.
- Isolation. Caregivers are often not acknowledged in our society. You may feel like no one understands what you are going through. If you are very busy with your caregiving responsibilities, you may not have time to see friends and family, or attend events in your community.
Caregivers often feel like they have to do everything themselves. Even if the things you are doing do not seem like much, providing care for a long time can wear you out. You may feel guilty about taking time for yourself or seeking outside help, especially if your loved doesn’t want you to.
Think of the oxygen mask on the airplane: if you put your loved one’s mask on first and neglect your own, you will only be able to care for them for a short while before you run out of air.
When you’re in the middle of caregiving it can be hard to recognize if you are stressed. Many past caregivers say that they only realized they were stressed after their caregiving journey was over. Signs of stress include:
- Having trouble sleeping
- Feeling angry or frustrated
- Feeling irritable or impatient with your loved one
- Having trouble relaxing when help is available
- Constantly worrying/feeling overwhelmed
- Crying frequently
If you have signs of caregiving stress, it is time to look for supports for you.
- Find someone you can talk to. You need to be able to talk about your experience with someone who will listen. If you are worried about being judged, consider attending a caregiver group- it can be a relief to find others who are in the same situation.
- Take a break. There are many ways of getting a break: home care might help lighten the load, there may be day programs and respite beds for your loved one, even just setting aside 15 minutes a day to go for a walk or read a book can help.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to a case manager, doctor or social worker about the challenges you face, there may be supports available that you aren’t aware of.
- Keep a list of things people can do to help. It could include visiting your loved one, helping with yard work, bringing you a coffee, or asking if you need anything from the store when they’re buying groceries. If a family member or friend asks if there’s something they can do to help, pull out your list.
- Make yourself a priority.