How to Protect Your Mental Health as a Caregiver

Nov 8, 2022

As the Baby Boomers, America’s second-largest generation, reach seniorhood, their adult children are often stepping in to assist with caregiving duties.

People are increasingly compelled to make these life-altering decisions. You may even wonder if now is the right time for your loved one to move into a senior living community or try respite care.

Taking care of a parent by yourself may seem like a normal, practical, and logical thing to do at first. However, providing care for family members can quickly become emotionally overwhelming.

How Does Caregiving Affect Your Mental Health?

Unless you have prior experience with caregiving, you may be unaware of the toll it can take on your mental health. Caregivers of critically ill family members or those caring for loved ones with chronic progressive illnesses, like Alzheimer’s disease, are at a greater risk of experiencing clinical depression after their loved ones pass. And, caregivers may also face a shortage of mental health resources.

These unanticipated negative health consequences of care can be both harmful and costly. While the physical demands of family caregiving can raise the risk of developing chronic conditions, stress and depression can cause long-term mental health problems.

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, but it can also come with several stressors. And, because caregiving is commonly a long-term challenge, the emotional toll can accumulate over time.

It can be especially disheartening if you feel like you’re in over your head, if there’s no hope that your family member will recover, or if their condition is gradually deteriorating despite your best efforts.

Caregiving stress can have a negative impact on your health, relationships, and mental state, eventually leading to burnout—a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. When that happens, both you and the person you’re caring for could feel the impact. 

Signs of burnout can include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Often feeling tired or exhausted
  • Getting too much or too little sleep
  • Changes in weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Experiencing frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical issues
  • Overuse of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs

How to Protect Your Mental Health

When you assist your loved one, it’s important to consider your own mental health. There are certain things you can do as a caregiver to ensure that mental health in the family becomes a priority.

Don’t Do It Alone

Prepare a list of ways that others can assist you, and then let your helpers choose what they want to do. For example, a friend may offer to take the person you care for on a walk once or twice a week, or a friend or family member could run an errand for you, pick up groceries, or cook for you.

A group of four caregivers are sitting at a table and enjoying their company while drinking coffee after their shift.

Make Time for Self Care

It’s important that you take some time to relax. Don’t feel bad about prioritizing self-care. Taking care of your emotional needs doesn’t imply that you care any less about your loved one.

Reflect on what you need to honor and protect your mental health, even if it takes some time to learn what you need. Here are a few ideas you can try:

  • Set aside time in your schedule to give yourself some alone time
  • Spend some time with your friends
  • Go for a walk outside
  • Keep a journal to express yourself

Do whatever you believe is within your means to help yourself recharge. After all, you can’t take care of your loved one if you’re not taking care of yourself.

Look Into Respite Care

It may be difficult to imagine leaving your loved one in the care of others, but taking a break can be one of the best things you can do for yourself, and the person you’re caring for.

Enlist the help of friends and family who live nearby to run errands, bring a hot meal, or watch your loved one so you can relax.

Volunteers or paid help can also provide in-home services on an as-needed or regular basis. 

You can also look into out-of-home respite programs at senior living communities, including Chestnut Ridge. When your loved one enjoys a temporary stay in a senior living community, they can experience the wonderful amenities and services there while making new friends. It can also help make the transition later in life a little easier, should they choose to make a move.

Learn More About Respite Care at Chestnut Ridge

Respite care is a short-term stay in our community that includes all of the wonderful benefits of our qualified care services and amenities. When you or a loved one needs our assistance, you can count on us.

If you’re interested in what our community has to offer, contact us and schedule a visit, we’re here to answer any questions you may have.