Tending to an ill family member is no easy task; the level of care required can be overwhelming, and many caregivers find themselves suffering from depression, anxiety and physical health problems of their own. Caregiving requires a lot of mental and physical energy, as well as a level of sacrifice most are not comfortable with. As someone who took on a caregiving role when my father was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, I would like to share some tips that helped me cope with the situation.
Know All Your Feelings are Okay
Caregiving is highly stressful; you will experience a range of emotions, many of which may inspire strong feelings of guilt. You may feel angry towards your loved one for no longer being able to care for themselves as they once did; you may feel angry at the sacrifices you are making and no longer being able to focus more on your own needs and desires. You may hate it sometimes. I felt many of these types of feelings and it did not mean I did not love my father with all my heart, because I did. No one would choose this experience and it is understandable that you may not always embrace it with ease.
Take Time for Yourself
This one is sometimes easier said than done, but it is probably one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Let go of the guilt and know you have every right to make your own health, happiness and overall well-being a top priority. At the time of my father’s illness, I had been living at home with my parents, and I would often spend the weekends at my boyfriends’ house just to get away from everything for a bit. If I had to name the thing that helped me most deal with the situation, it was this time away from my home.
In recent years, meditation has been getting a lot more attention in the West, and with good reason. It helps strengthen the mind and allows you to gain better control over thoughts and feelings. When dealing with a stressful situation like caregiving, you need all the help in this area you can get. Meditation helped me observe my negative feelings about the experience better; it helped me gain a more empowering perspective that encouraged me to take greater control of the situation rather than feeling like the situation was controlling me.
Know Your Limits
Many caregivers end up taking on way more than they are capable of—this is usually due to a mix of factors, such as guilt and a sense of obligation. Perhaps you feel that your parents took care of you when you were young and know it is time to take care of them. But, taking care of a seriously ill adult, especially one whose mental faculties are declining, is a whole different ballgame. For your own health and perhaps the health of your marriage or family, you need to know your limits and speak up about them. Know when it may be time to look into home health aides or supportive living; you may feel that providing care yourself is the best thing for your loved one, but in many cases, that is not true.
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who blogs about a variety of elder care topics and caregiving.