Monday, November 8, 2010

National Family Caregivers Month: Self-Care for Caregivers

By Felicia Wong, MD

I love helping others. That is why I became a doctor, and why I love my job as a psychiatrist. But when I was a pre-medical student in college, my mom shared the following words of wisdom with me:  “In order to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself first.”

It took me a moment to understand the importance of the point she was making. I had taken a break from my community service projects due to a sports injury, and was eager to return to them. However, at that time, I was not fully recovered and was often in pain, and would tire easily. My mom encouraged me to take some more time off in order to focus on my own recovery and healing. Initially, I felt guilty taking the time out for myself. But in the end, I realized mom was right. Once I became strong and well again, I had so much more to offer to others.
Caregivers tend to be selfless, and expect a lot of themselves without recognizing their own need for self-care. Studies have found that caregivers have higher levels of depression and stress than non-caregivers. Sometimes caregivers are so committed to helping others that they forget to take care of themselves. They fail to recognize that if they drive themselves to exhaustion or sickness, they may not be able to help at all.

Warning signs of caregiver burnout from the non-profit include:
  • You have much less energy than you used to
  • It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
  • You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
  • You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
  • Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
  • You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
  • You feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless
Key strategies to prevent burnout include getting the help you need, seeking emotional support, and taking time out to care for yourself.
  • Learn and use stress-reduction techniques.
  • Attend to your own healthcare needs.
  • Get proper rest and nutrition.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take time off without feeling guilty.
  • Participate in pleasant, nurturing activities.
  • Seek and accept the support of others.
  • Seek supportive counseling when you need it, or talk to a trusted counselor or friend.
  • Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Change the negative ways you view situations.
  • Set goals.
For additional strategies for self-care for caregivers, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance, and watch for my next post on caring for someone with Alzheimer's. 

1 comment:

  1. I want to stress to all caregivers to remember that they are not alone. There is a ton of information and help out there for caregivers. I'd like to promote the Visiting Nurse Service of New York as a place for a host of information and services. Even if you are not in the New York City area, check out their site for articles like Avoiding Caregiver Burnout and Take care of yourself! Stav


Comments are reviewed before posting, and comments that include profanity or other inappropriate material will not be posted. The comment section is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional medical advice. All decisions about clinical care should be made in consultation with your treating physician. If you need help with a mental health issue, please visit our resource page.