En español | You probably know all the details about the health of the person for whom you’re caring. You’re on top of what medications must be taken and when, and you can even spot minor changes in her mood and attitude. Are you as aware of what’s going on with you?
See also: 10 ways to manage caregiver stress.
Probably not. When you’re caring for a loved one, it’s easy to forget about your own needs, putting you at serious risk of burnout. Here are five signs that you’ve reached the end of your rope — and suggestions on what you can do about it.
1. You feel furious one minute, sad and helpless the next. Whatever you call it — second-hand stress or the more serious caregiver burnout — the despairing mix of physical and emotional exhaustion strikes many caregivers at one time or another. As you ride the emotional rollercoaster of caregiving, you’re easily overwhelmed and angry. You can’t eat or you eat too much. You’re exhausted even after a night’s sleep. Your brain is foggy and you no longer care about the things that used to bring you joy.
The fix: Your life has changed in profound ways, so it’s natural to feel frustrated and to grieve for what you have lost. But untreated anxiety or depression is serious, and you can’t take good care of anyone if you don’t take of yourself.
First, check in with your doctor to rule out any medical conditions that can trigger symptoms of mental health problems. Let your doctor know that you are a caregiver and might need support to be able to continue in this role. Finally, remind yourself that while you are doing everything you can, you will never do everything — and that’s OK too.
2. You catch every bug that comes your way. Stress doesn’t just make you anxious and depressed. It takes a toll on a toll on your immune system. If you are getting sick more often and staying sick longer than you used to, your body is trying to tell you something. Listen up.
The fix: Don’t let routine checkups slide because you don’t think you have the time. See your primary care doctor and your dentist regularly. Ditto for immunizations, mammograms and other recommended screenings. Eating a nutritious diet and getting at least seven hours of sleep a night boosts your body’s natural defenses.
3. You’re snapping at everyone. When you feel helpless and overwhelmed, you’re more likely to overreact to the things people do, or don’t do. Like a toddler having a tantrum, you need a timeout.
The fix: Don’t set the bar so high that you can never meet it. Pick up the phone and make a call to a friend. Studies show that simply giving voice to your frustrations and fears dials down tension and eases the isolation that shadows caregivers.
Mapping out a daily routine that you try to stick to will also give you a greater sense of control. Prioritize your to-do list, whether it’s grocery shopping or taking Mom to a doctor’s appointment. Don’t worry about things lower down on the list that don’t get done.