Being a caregiver for a loved one can often feel like a time-consuming, hectic job that nobody is paying you to do. Over time, your body and mind can both start feeling the effects of this day-in day-out stress. Yet because you are constantly focused on providing care for your family member, sometimes you may tend to put you and your needs second. This can potentially become a serious issue, as maintaining proper physical and mental health is critical for taking proper care of your loved one. Remember, you’re likely going to have a much harder time taking care of others unless you are taking proper care of yourself, too.
Are You Dealing With Depression?
In addition to chronic fatigue, physical illness, and problems with anxiety, developing depression is far more common among caregivers than you might expect. Dealing with depression from caregiving can be exhausting; knowing you have to care for someone else, yet not being willing or able to take proper care of yourself, burns the candle at both ends. You can become moody, lose your temper more easily, or become irrationally emotional or angry over trivial matters. You may stop going out for social reasons, or find ways to avoid seeing your friends. You could also notice a loss of interest in activities you once found enjoyable, like hobbies or sports.
There is Help for Depression
If you feel you are suffering from severe depression, or if you have thoughts of self-harm, you should immediately seek mental health treatment. Nearly 10% of Americans, including many children, are currently being prescribed some type of anti-depressant medication. While writing a prescription is by far the most common course of treatment for most psychiatrists and many psychologists, it is not always helpful for everyone. With so many different kinds of antidepressants available on the market today, sometimes it seems easier to turn to a pill to minimize symptoms rather than trying to find more natural ways of treating the problem itself. Then there is the issue of prescription side effects, which can sometimes be just as difficult to cope with as the depression is. While you should always double-check with your primary care physician about best courses of action before choosing to do anything, you should at least consider taking a look at more natural ways to help combat feelings of depression.
Ways to Combat Depression
Find A Caregiver Support Group
When you are a full-time caregiver, it is easy to feel isolated and alone in your situation. Sometimes, the most helpful thing to realize is that you’re definitely not alone, nor are your feelings and emotions invalid, selfish, or otherwise inappropriate. Reaching out to a community of other caregivers who walk your walk and can fully empathize can help a lot. Some groups allow you to buddy up via telephone with other caregivers, giving both of you an extra ear to lend if you have a particularly bad episode with your loved one, or just need someone to listen who you know will really “get it”.
Improve Your Diet
When you are frazzled, overworked, and stressed out, it can be all too easy for your eyes to wander longingly towards the fast food drive-thru, or the frozen microwave meals in your grocer’s freezer. Unfortunately, many frozen, processed, and fast foods have very little nutritional value, but do contain tons of saturated fat, high fructose corn syrup, and extreme amounts of sodium, all of which can possibly lead to excess weight gain and deterioration of your overall health and well being.
One of the single best ways to improve your diet today is simply to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet. It really is far easier than you may think. One of the best ways may be to invest in a professional juicer, so you can make yourself fruit or veggie “smoothies” or shakes for breakfast in the morning. There are lots of recipes available online. Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries can all make wonderful smoothies. You could opt to add milk (almond milk or soy milk can work just as well) to your smoothie if you wish, though you don’t have to add milk at all if you don’t want to. Including some dark leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, and spinach can add lots and lots of vital nutrients. If you can’t stomach the taste of liquid veggies, consider adding lots of fruit to the mix—using lots of banana, for example, can be a great way to help improve the taste.
Keep An Eye On Your Alcohol Intake
Alcohol is, for many, a handy go-to at the end of a long or difficult day to help unwind. To be clear, the occasional glass of wine one evening isn’t necessarily anything that should cause concern. However, since drinking is often considered a more socially acceptable form of stress relief than other avenues, this can encourage some people to drink to excess. Left unchecked, alcohol misuse or abuse can wind up wreaking havoc on your body, particularly your liver and kidneys. It can also wind up negatively affecting your caregiving abilities, your job, and your relationships with others. If you feel you have developed a problem with alcohol abuse, there are support groups nationwide that can help you. A quick online search can almost certainly find one located near you. Please consider going to a support group meeting as soon as possible. In addition, don’t forget to notify your primary care doctor that you are dealing with this problem.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some caregivers feel they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and it is a burden that simply cannot be transferred to another individual. However, there are indeed options available for taking an occasional break from caregiving, and it’s strongly suggested you consider exploring them. Respite coalitions are one great idea you may want to research; these groups can offer caregivers regular breaks from the duties their family member requires. Typically, respite care cost’s a fraction of what nursing home care might cost.
Lauren Hill is a freelance writer who specializes in everyday topics for everyday people.