Caring for the carer
Protecting your mental health while caring for someone with mental illnessSunday, October 10, 2021
Today is World Mental Health Day and sometimes we forget how important protecting our mental health is, especially when we spend most of our time making sure the people around us are healthy. Particularly, you may find those who care for someone with some form of disorder making personal sacrifices at the expense of their health. The question they need to answer is, “Who is going to take care of you if you do not take care of yourself?”
Many caregivers do not classify themselves as such. This can be because they are not medically qualified or because the person being cared for is a family member and they believe it is their responsibility. However, a caregiver can be defined as anyone who provides help to another person in need. The person being assisted may be anyone who suffers from some form of disorder whether mental, physical or physiological. Recognising your position as a caregiver can be crucial in understanding the importance of your role and getting support within this space.
For many, being a caregiver is an extremely rewarding experience. However, caring for someone else, especially a loved one, may cause strain even on the most resilient people. Naturally, you may feel anxiety, exhaustion and possibly even anger and agitation in this role. When these feelings get to an overwhelming point this is classified as caregiver burnout.
Some possible symptoms of caregiver burnout include:
Depression (including social isolation)
Anxiety (constantly feelings of worry or being overwhelmed)
Sleep issues (sleeping too much or not enough, constantly feeling tired)
Gaining or losing weight
Frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
But how can a caregiver protect their mental health? Once you become aware of these symptoms the next step is doing what you can to be in a better position physically and mentally. Below I share ways you can protect your mental health while caring for someone with a mental health disorder.
Ask for help
You should not assume that your loved ones automatically know what you are going through. It is important for you to speak up and explain some of the difficulties you may be facing in your role as a caregiver, especially before you become too overwhelmed. Asking for help does not make you weak or incapable. You may find help coming from community resources, family, friends and professionals.
Your community may be able to help you with small tasks such as groceries and other errands. This may free up some time for you and take some of the weight off of your shoulders. This free time will allow you to do some exercise, get some rest or wind down in whatever way may be helpful for you. You are not alone. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
Talk to a professional
A major part of caregiving may be administering medication and other medical treatment. You should reach out to a professional for advice, particularly if this gives you any form of anxiety or unease. Additionally, if you feel like you are approaching burnout, talking to a professional is an important step in making sure you are healthy. Telemedicine is a perfect tool you may take advantage of in this case. It is less time consuming and will not require you to be taken fully away from your tasks. You may also benefit from the confidentiality of this service which will allow you to communicate with a doctor solely over text or phone call wherein no one will need to know you sought professional help for your struggles.
Take care of your physical health
Having a healthy diet and ensuring you get adequate exercise is extremely important. Improving your physical health has the spillover effect of improving your mental health. You will find that you are far more energetic, positive and focused. This will help you not only to have a healthier, more productive life, but you may find it contributing to a more fulfilling experience as a caregiver.
Celebrate small victories
Focusing on the negatives of your role may make it much more difficult to navigate your day to day. It is very important for you to celebrate your small victories. Did you complete all your tasks today? Celebrate it. Were you able to have a healthy meal and get a 15-minute workout in? Commend yourself. Focusing on the positives are very important for your mental health.
No one can take away the hard work that you do every day to extend yourself for someone else. Doing all of that and prioritising yourself is a huge accomplishment. Understand that taking care of yourself is not a luxury, it is a necessity, no matter what role you take on.
Dr Ché Bowen, a digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO & founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Check out the company's website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at email@example.com.