Practicing self care as a caregiver is really important. It will help you keep from getting super stressed and rundown. My sister and I were caregivers for my dad when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2012. I was also a caregiver for my aunt and uncle when they were diagnosed with lung cancer pretty much at the same time. We regularly forgot to self care and it really took its toll. Neither of us knew the signs of caregiver stress so we just thought that it was par for the course when caring for a loved one. I want to help my fellow caregivers in recognizing the signs of caregiver stress and how to get into the routine of regularly self caring.
The Signs of Caregiver Stress
The signs of caregiver stress can be easily overlooked or brushed off as a couple of bad days. I can safely say that I had a majority of these feelings over the 4 years that I was caring for my dad and my aunt. What I didn’t know at the time that what I was feeling was stress. Everything I was feeling, I had an excuse for at the time I was feeling it. Knowing the signs of caregiver stress is a big help in knowing when to take a step back and give yourself some love!
Feeling overwhelmed, Frustrated, and Angry
I had this A LOT! Thinking I was just angry with my dad’s diagnosis, I didn’t think anything else about it. What I didn’t realize is that it was a sign of being stressed out. I would snap at my family members and then feel horrible for doing so. I didn’t understand that I needed time for myself. Sometimes I had my aunt, my uncle and my dad all in the same day. Not saying that I regret anything at all but it would have been helpful to know that my feelings were from stress and not from actual contempt!
Making Frequent Mistakes
I didn’t do this because of how important my dad’s regimen was, BUT I can definitely see how it happens. Towards the end of my dads, aunts and uncles life, we had to put baby locks on the doors and we had to buy a baby monitor to make sure we heard them if they got out of bed in the middle of the night. My dad would get up at 2 and 3 in the morning and get completely dressed in his work uniform and we would find him in the yard about to get in his truck to go to work.
Feeling Alone, Isolated, or Deserted
I didn’t feel this as much because my mom and my sister were around, but I don’t know how I would cope if it were just my dad and I. I feel like these emotions can come on from time to time with valid reasoning, but if it’s day in and day out. Then you might be suffering from caregiver stress
Getting Zero Sleep or Too Much Sleep
I know that this can be almost impossible to judge when you’re a caregiver. We ran on little to no sleep from 2012-2016. I think this is more along the lines of if you’re sleeping over 9 hours or if you aren’t sleeping at all even when you’re not having to be on alert.
Gaining or Losing Weight
I gained a ton of weight when I was caring for my family. I realize now that I stress eat..A LOT. I can also see how people lose a lot of weight too. This is another sign that can easily be explained away.
I know that you’re “always tired” and that’s normal when you’re caring for someone. I think that this is when you’re tired beyond caregiving tired. This is when you’re tired even when you’re at home and relaxing on a day off.
Loss of Interest
This is a common symptom. It starts as not having enough time to do what you like doing and then it rapidly turns into you just don’t have the energy to go out and do things. I struggle with this a lot…even today. You make plans on a day that you’re feeling good and then you constantly worry about actually having to go out.
Becoming Easily Irritated
I had this a lot when I was caretaking. I still get easily irritated when I’m tired or stressed. But now I can successfully determine when I’m getting irritated because I’m stressed out and I can correct myself.
Constantly Worried or Sad
I always felt that my constant worrying was justified because of my dads diagnosis, but now reading about caregiver stress, I know that I was overly worrying. It was borderline excessive at times.
I can’t say too much on this topic because I’ve been diagnosed with an arachnoid cyst on my brain that causes what they call “ice cream” migraines which feel like a constant brain freeze, but stress headaches are a real thing and they are awful. If you’re getting constant headaches while your caring for someone and you’ve never been prone to headaches before, then you’re probably stressed.
Tackling Caregiver Stress
When you’re making your schedule for the week or the month (don’t tell me you don’t have one either…I know you do! Ours was our life when we were caring for my dad) make sure that you’re penciling in at least 30-45 minutes to yourself every day. If you can then you need to pencil in at least a full day off where you can just focus on yourself.
Check out our post on what you can do on a Self Care day. I know it seems like you can’t get away, but having that time to take care of yourself even if it’s just 10-20 minutes a day can really help! Honestly, if you run yourself down too much it can make you sick and then you’re down for a while..
Get a Cup of Herbal Tea
Nothing is better than a cup of chamomile tea when I’m anxious. Yogi actually has a stress relief tea that’s really good too! If you’re not into tea, then I recommend drinking bone broth. It tastes like soup and it’s warm and calming, plus it’s really good in helping to boost your immune system!
Use or Diffuse Some Essential Oils
Lavender is my favorite essential oil to have on hand at all times. It just screams calming to me. As long as it isn’t irritating to the person you’re caring for, you can put essential oils in some unscented lotion. If you can’t wear these while you’re caring for your person, you can get a cheap diffuser and have it diffusing all the time at home(which is what I like to do). Having a diffuser helps create that calming environment, that we all crave in our homes!
Write in a Journal
Writing down what you’re feeling (even if it doesn’t make sense) can really help you in getting a handle on your emotions. Start by writing down your concerns and fears, and what’s been happening in your life right now. By doing this, you can look back and see what’s concerning you and how it will affect your moods
Watch a Movie or a TV Show
Take some time to sit down and watch a new show or a movie that you really love. I used to watch movies all the time with my dad while he was taking chemo, or when we were at home. I know it seems like you aren’t doing much of anything at the time, but it does redirect some of your focus from your mood to the television screen.
Meditating is always a good idea. It’s super calming and helps you clear your mind. If you’re not sure how to meditate, the Headspace app is a great starting place! They teach you how to meditate in 10 minute sessions. After a while you’ll be able to do this even while you’re still caring for your person!
Make a List of Things You’re Grateful For
We always need reminding of the things that we’re grateful for. I like to (mentally) do this all the time, but having a physical copy of these things makes it to where I can go back and look at my lists whenever I need reminding!