By Matthew Delaney (Staff)
Caregiving is the new typical in the United States. According to 2019 estimates from the National Council on Caregiving, approximately 43.5 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last twelve months. Like many caregivers, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for my loved ones; it can take a toll on every one of us. It is easy to become wrapped up in our unconditional love for those we care for, and the daily stresses of life make it easy to put ourselves last. But without providing support for ourselves in the process, we can become stressed and ultimately burn out.
I’ve found that if I do not take the time to care for myself, my loved ones ultimately feel like a burden through seeing my stress, which I can not hide. Through using social support, self-care, and enacting practical help strategies in my daily life, I can be the best caregiver I can be to those that I love.
Caregiving takes a village, build a support team.
It is easy for me to think that we have to do this alone. I want to give all the love and support that I can to my loved ones; we are only human after all! But caregivers need to have support around them for themselves and their loved ones. Whether that be the friends who know when I am feeling stressed and take me out of the house to have a meal together, or family who can take care of some smaller tasks. It can be as easy as dropping off groceries on their way home that I haven’t found the time to get, or even spending some time creating shifts to visit with my loved one I am taking care of. Having that support team is so vital not only for our loved ones but for us as well to make sure we can maintain our capacity to care for others.
Set your capacity and boundaries.
While I want to do everything we can to make my loved one comfortable and positive, I need to create boundaries and realize my emotional capacity. This can be a great topic of conversation with the person you love, as well as your support team of friends, family, and professionals. We are caregivers, but we are ultimately loved ones. I try to include my loved one in conversations about how much I can do at a given time, and the best strategies to make sure I’m taking care of my mental health and stress levels. Giving my loved one a say in the decision on where to pull in extra support provides them with their agency in decision making and how to receive the care they need from me.
You are your own caregiver.
As caregivers, we are so focused on others that we forget about ourselves. I’ve found that creating a schedule to take time to do things that I enjoy and develop some positive coping strategies to ease stress and emotion. Take the time in the day to go for a walk, read a book, connect with your social supports that are part of your “team.” Social isolation as a result of caring for our loved ones can sneak upon us, I’ve made sure to practice self-care every day, while also maintaining my own life and social network, even if just for a few minutes.
As caregivers, we tend to see ourselves last; it’s our human nature. But through building support, creating space for ourselves and realizing our physical and emotional capacity, we can still provide the best care to our loved ones that we can, while also caring for ourselves.