Asking for help…….
Caregiving takes a toll on emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Family caregivers tend to be selfless and put their own needs on the back burner to care for their loved ones. Even those who appear to be most cognitively and physically equipped to handle caregiving responsibilities are susceptible to stress and are at an elevated risk for the development of a mental health disorder.
At the height of my own family caregiving experience, I was caring for both of my parents at the same time. Both parents had very fragile physical health and my father required close 24 hour supervision due to support needs associated with vascular dementia.
During one three month stretch, I averaged about 3 hours of sleep per night. My father would often attempt to elope in the middle of cold nights to catch a train to school, which was his young adult routine coming back to the forefront of his mind. I alarmed our outside doors after I caught him walking out on a 25 degree night without a coat on. Only once did he make it beyond my “one eye open” sleep pattern to set off a door alarm, which gave both of us a near heart attack.
Although most family and friends thought that I was doing a phenomenal job with managing my caregiving responsibilities, I could feel a decline in my body, mind, and spirit. My blood pressure went up and I found myself becoming increasingly anxious and depressed, probably a direct result of my lack of quality rest. I did my best to shower my parents with love and treat them with dignity and respect even during the most challenging of situations.
However, there were times that I could feel extreme anger or sadness creep into my mind and did my best to keep myself in check, thus bottling up my emotions. This only made things worse and left me feeling as though I was going crazy and there was no way out of my state of purgatory. Other family caregivers, many who have served in the role for many years, have frightening experiences as a result of long term, untreated stress that leave them on the brink of burnout.
If you or a caregiver you know shows any of the following signs, it is time to seek support.
- You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a power nap
- Since your life revolves around your caregiving responsibilities, you feel little or no personal satisfaction with life
- You feel uncomfortable emotions of anger, fear, and sadness under the surface but fight or refuse to release them
- You find yourself becoming increasingly impatient, irritable, and occasionally lash out in anger with the person you’re caring for
- You have moments in your day when you feel overwhelmed and hopeless
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Caregivers who do not seek support from others, including from their own physician or medical team, are at risk for potentially harmful caregiving behavior that can lead to caregiving abuse. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, do not be embarrassed. It is natural given the stress associated with walking hand in hand with your loved ones through very frightening experiences. Ask for help before you do something you regret.