In the United States, there were over 53 million informal caregivers in 2020, each facing their unique challenges and struggles. Caring for a loved one facing an illness is often seen as a noble and commendable task, but its long-term impacts on caregivers are often overlooked. Strains on mental health have become increasingly common among caregivers who have to juggle the responsibility of looking after their loved ones and their personal affairs. After the Covid-19 pandemic, caregiver burdens only intensified, given the strain caused by this uncertain period.
If you’re a caregiver experiencing burnout, it’s important to spot the signs of stress and the coping mechanisms you use to find some reprieve. Here are some ways you can combat the common stressors you may be facing as a caregiver:
Loneliness and isolation
Caregiving can be a solitary task, especially if you’re the only caregiver or the one who is most present. Studies have shown that providing informal care increases loneliness and isolation. The pandemic also heightened these feelings, with a majority of US caregivers experiencing loneliness due to hindered social connections. This can be detrimental to mental and physical health, increasing the chances of morbidity and mortality. Feelings of loneliness and isolation not only harm caregivers but can also adversely affect your loved ones. It’s not easy to break out of isolation when you’re spending most of your time caregiving, but there are various ways to reach out to others for support or company. Try phone or video calling family members and friends regularly to discuss topics outside of caregiving. It can be an excellent opportunity to socialize and take your mind off care stressors. If possible, invite them if you need an extra pair of hands or someone to talk to.
Caregiving is an emotional journey that can easily become exhausting and stressful. Stress-eating is a common coping mechanism for caregivers experiencing emotional burdens. Unfortunately, this coping mechanism can lead to weight gain, eating disorders, and other negative impacts on physical health. Caregivers must address their eating patterns to overcome health concerns related to food. A digital weight loss plan can help you get started with building a better relationship with food by focusing on adding nutritious ingredients to your diet rather than eliminating your favorites. Furthermore, these plans are easily accessible through apps, allowing you to search for recipes, chat with nutritionists, and connect with like-minded people — keeping you accountable for your health goals. Be consistent and accurate with tracking as much as possible. You can record what you’ve eaten after each meal or plan healthy meals for the week, so you have something to stick to.
Much of your attention and time may be focused on caregiving, leading to a lack of rest and sleep. However, sacrificing those necessary rest periods can hinder your physical and mental well-being. If you’re sleep-deprived, the recipient of your care won’t get the proper help they need either. No matter how much time you spend caregiving, you need a full eight hours of sleep as much as possible. Getting enough sleep is an essential aspect of caring for your mental well-being. When you’re tired, ask a spouse, family member, or relative to take turns with you in providing care. If possible, you can also hire another training aide to give you some periods of rest and sleep for you to recover physically and mentally.
Taking care of yourself is paramount to taking care of others well. By addressing your stressors, committing to carving out time, and creating healthy coping strategies, you can improve your overall health, making you an even better caregiver.