Learning to Care for Yourself as a Family Caregiver
Becoming a parent’s caregiver can be a life-altering change. For so long, my mom was the one who took care of me; switching roles meant changing my schedule and priorities, as well as taking on new responsibilities. Unfortunately, this new role also meant learning a few hard truths about my limits. Between helping my mom with her daily tasks and getting my own work completed in time for college classes, I was a mess; I was so busy offering help, I didn’t realize I needed help myself.
Caregiver stress is a real condition caused by the stress of taking care of a loved one. It can cause anxiety, irritability, concentration issues, and feelings of isolation. For this reason, when you take on the role of caregiver, you’ll also need to learn how to better take care of yourself. If you’re not functioning at 100%, you won’t be able to help anyone else, either. While it can be hard to focus on “you” when someone else needs you, that doesn’t mean you can just give up— there are several small changes you can make that will go a long way toward keeping you happy, healthy, and able to help.
Change Your Diet
A college diet isn’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Ramen noodles made up half of my meals, and sometimes, I was so busy that I would forget to eat entirely. My food habits were the first thing I changed, and I quickly noticed a difference: by eating more greens and less processed, sugary foods, I was feeling less stressed and less tired. This is because healthy eating can do wonders for your anxiety levels while also giving you more energy. In turn, this energy can help when it comes to balancing classes and parent care. However, there were still several days where I’d wake up tired, moody, and achy—I soon realized that changing my diet wasn’t enough, and I’d have to change my sleep schedule, too.
Change Your Sleep Schedule
Just like with diet, college life can take a toll on your sleep schedule. I was always up studying for a test, helping my mom, or in some rare cases, hanging out with my dorm mates. But if I wanted my mental and physical health to improve, I’d need to get better sleep. Improved sleep can lead to an improved mood, as well as better concentration and productivity. In my case, I noticed that I was doing better on quizzes and generally feeling cheerier, which made for better interactions with my mom and my friends. However, I was still feeling anxious, and some nights I still had trouble sleeping. I suspected something else was up, and I needed to get to the root of it.
Take Action Against Stress
My diet and sleeping changes could only do so much if I didn’t get my stress under control. Of course, there wasn’t much I could do about the causes of my stress, but I could take steps to manage how said stress affected me. I’d previously tried CBD coconut oil to help myself sleep before a difficult test, and now, I tried it again. Just like last time, it helped calm me before bed so that I’d wake up alert and rested. Similarly, I took up yoga and started practicing deep breathing methods. Between these techniques, I now had a better way to manage my stress and prevent it from getting worse. However, even though I was feeling better, my mind was still preoccupied: I needed an expert to help untangle it.
Before taking care of my mom, I had never tried therapy. I thought therapy was something you did if you had an emotional disorder or had undergone a tragedy. In truth, anxiety can be an important reason to seek out therapy. Anxiety can make it hard to focus on anything but the cause of your anxiety, and even if your feelings of anxiousness go away, that fixation tends to linger. For this reason, therapy was a boon for helping me overcome my caregiver stress. My therapist provided additional coping methods, like keeping a stress journal, and helped me learn to understand my feelings and accept them. Additionally, she helped me realize that I had other resources—ones that could help not just prevent or manage my stress, but also lessen the load by sharing it.
Ask Others for Help
When all else fails, it might be time to tag in someone else to help. Though this isn’t an option for everyone, it’s helped me overcome my stress immensely. In my case, reaching out meant enlisting my friends to help with certain tasks, such as driving my mom to get groceries or taking her to doctor’s appointments. I was still there for emergencies and last-minute needs, but my friends were willing and able to help shoulder the rest. In a literal sense, this gave me more time to focus on homework and lessons while also offering a set of hands to do the work I couldn’t do. In a more abstract sense, it lightened the weight on my shoulders, providing peace of mind and security while allowing me to breathe again.
If you think you’re at this stage of needing help but don’t know who to ask, it might be time to enlist a professional. Though their care might be pricey, it might also be worth it; you’re only one person, and you can’t do it all. There’s no shame in admitting that you need help.
If you’re not at your best, you can’t help anyone else, either. Caregiver stress is a real and serious condition, and you need to take care of yourself to avoid it. By eating and sleeping healthy, taking steps to manage stress, talking to a therapist, and reaching out for help, you’ll ultimately feel better and be able to better take care of your loved ones. Focusing on you isn’t selfish—it’s an investment in both yourself and your loved one. Caregivers require and deserve care themselves, and hopefully, now you know some ways to obtain it.
Guest Writer Bio
Mollie Wilson is a freelance writer from North Carolina. When she is not writing, she is perusing an adventures life- backpacking, climbing, exploring local coffee shops, and traveling.