As a social worker and clinician, I've met a lot of caregivers who are stressed out, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Caregivers spend an average of 40.5 hours a week if they live with a loved one who needs care AND 24.4 hours if the loved one lives in another home. More than 96% of caregivers who provide complex care help provide activities of daily living such as shopping for food, dressing/undressing, providing technology, booking medical appointments, and the list goes on. Caregiving for a loved one can be rewarding, but it can also be stressful.
With all that time being spent helping someone else, it's easy to get lost and overwhelmed if you don't take care of yourself. Imagine that you are on an airplane, the flight attendant tells you "in case of a pressure change, place the oxygen mask on yourself first and then a child or dependent". Self-care is the oxygen. I love this metaphor because it's really something that carries over into mental health for everyone. We must take care of ourselves before we can give anything to others, or we will burn out. Burnout looks like having less empathy, less patience, being more easily frustrated, depression, cynicism, and tiredness. When we continue to care for others without taking care of ourselves, not only are we running on empty, we aren't able to really care the way we would like to.
What does practicing self-care really look like? It might be taking 15 minutes just to do something for yourself such as: sleeping a full 8 hours, saying no to extra obligations, joining a support group, eating healthy, starting a journal, or anything that allows you to recharge your energy bank. You might worry that practicing self-care is being overindulgent, that we should work even harder. In fact, when we work harder without replenishing ourselves, we are even less productive and provide less compassionate care. If you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, don't be afraid to ask for help and talk to a qualified professional.
Written by Andreea Socoloschi, MSW LCSW