It takes a hugely generous spirit to undertake caring for a loved one who is declining due to Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, or another cognitive condition. For those of us who step into the role of caregiver, a battle can begin within us as we try to navigate the often distressing challenges of the role and the emotions that come with them. If you or someone you know is providing care, please read on. It is so important to realise that any negative feelings we may be grappling with are absolutely normal and that we can cultivate some healthy practices to lighten this emotional load.
What You May Be Feeling
Caregiving can be a thankless task that often leaves us feeling isolated and exhausted. When something takes up so much of our time, we often ingrain it into our self-identity, and this can put a huge emotional toll on us. You absolutely do love the person in your care, but none the less may experience feelings of anger, frustration and even ill-will towards that person at times. These conflicting emotions can stir up guilt and self-questioning and have an increasingly negative impact on our health. We might ask ourselves if we are a bad person because we are struggling so much with our role, but in fact, this array of emotions are a recognised part of what is known as Caregivers Syndrome or Caregivers Fatigue. When left unchecked, this difficult episode within our lives can lead to depression and ill health. Caregivers are also more prone to substance abuse and social withdrawal, both of which only escalate the negative impacts of this syndrome.
Recognising The Need For Self Care
If you are experiencing these challenges, or anticipate the potential for such challenges ahead, it is so important to realise that we can only provide care for others when we first take care of ourselves. We must set ourselves as a top priority if we are to make caregiving sustainable. We might still experience some of those negative feelings and that is absolutely OK, but in all probability, the burden will be far more manageable.
Asking For Support
It is tricky to avoid feeling as if we are unable to step away and that care giving is our responsibility alone. In fact, we must recognise that we are social creatures and we all need a support network around us. Even if you imagine you will feel guilty asking for help, make the commitment to reach out to friends or family for some support. I guarantee you that they will see everything you have taken upon your own shoulders and will feel relieved to be able to support you in some way. Be honest about what you are struggling with, and find people you can talk to when you need to vent. Connecting with others who have also provided care can be immensely reassuring as we hear that their experiences mirror our own.
Considering Respite Care
We all need to take a break sometimes, and your case is no different! If you don’t have a family member or friend who is able to offer you a proper break once in a while, consider connecting with professional caregivers for some temporary support. Whatever solution is right for you, be it daily visits from a respite carer, a live-in care professional, or a short stay in a residential care home, there will be an option to suit your needs and give you a well-deserved rest. Keep in mind that things may be a little bumpy for your loved one when you try something new, but know that it is very important for you to recharge your batteries. Making the most of respite care can also be a great way of introducing support to your loved one gradually, because should you reach a point in the future when more extensive care support is necessary, the transition is bound to feel much easier.
Lightening The Load
When acting as a caregiver, our role will likely extend beyond direct care to running the household of our loved one in its entirety. We might have taken on responsibility for cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening and caring for a beloved pet! Outsourcing some of the menial talks that surround caring for a loved one can leave us far more energy for the task at hand. Why not employ a dog walker, ask family or friends to help out around the house, or hire a cleaner or gardener to free up some of your precious time.
Taking Time Out
Make a promise to yourself now that you will take at least one hour of personal time each day to do something just for yourself. Whether you take a bath, read a book, go to the gym or have coffee with a friend, doing something for no other reason than to be kind to yourself is a sure fire way of reaffirming our own identity, feeling calmer and a little re-energised. The difference these small acts can make to our ability to process the tough parts of caregiving are huge, and prioritising them is an investment you cannot afford to neglect.
Feeding The Body And The Mind
When we become emotionally and physically drained, solid nutrition becomes more crucial than ever. Maximise your capacity to fight off illness and keep your energy levels up by eating regular, healthful and balanced meals, staying hydrated and keeping alcohol and sugar intake in check. Stressful periods in life are often accompanied by insomnia so consider investing in some calming herbal teas and make it a priority to prepare your own nutritious meals and evening tea a part of your self-care ritual.
Practising Self Compassion
You are only human, and you can care deeply for someone while feeling distressed and frustrated by the situation you share with them. Whenever you hear a self-critical voice creeping into your thoughts, make a point of correcting yourself and reminding yourself that it is a normal reaction to the very difficult experience of caring for someone we love in decline. Choose to forgive yourself when you feel negatively, and focus on offering yourself as much kindness as you can. Make a point of enjoying the positive moments you have with your loved one, and build your relationship by allowing others to support you in your time of need.