Taking care of another person—whether it’s a friend, family member, or significant other—is stressful. Life’s hard enough when you only have to worry about yourself! To some extent, caregiving is always going to be tough—but there are a few things you can do to help manage that stress.
Acknowledge your feelings about caregiving
When you’re taking care of someone else, a lot of the focus is on the other person: What do they need? How do they feel? You might feel like it’s your job to sacrifice your own happiness to take care of them. It might seem a little selfish to think about your own feelings. But no matter how hard you try, you’re still a person, and people feel a lot of emotions. Caregiving can bring up some really tough ones. You might feel:
- Isolated and alone
If you ignore your feelings about caregiving, they won’t go away—they’ll just get bottled up. Sooner or later, they’ll come out. You might snap at someone, or stress can slowly build up and make you sick. That’s not good for you, but it also makes it even harder to take care of someone else—so there’s really nothing selfish about taking care of yourself.
It might help to write down your feelings, or find a friend or family member who’s willing to listen as you talk through them. Support groups for caregivers, either in-person or online, can be really helpful too. Make sure you find time for yourself. Take breaks when you can. Make sure you’re doing things you enjoy, and spending time with other people you care about.
It’s easy to define your role as a caregiver in terms of what the other person needs or wants. After all, they can’t meet their needs on their own, so it’s your job to do it—right?
Remember that you’re just one person. There’s only so much one person can do. Even if you could dedicate all your time and energy to caregiving (and you probably can’t), you still couldn’t make life perfect for the person you’re taking care of. Be realistic about what you’re capable of.
Ask for help
You might feel like you’re the only one in the world who can help. Not only is that really stressful, it’s also probably not entirely true. Finding ways to share the load, even just a little, can make a big difference.
Maybe another family member can take over for a few hours so you can take a nap or go do something you enjoy. Maybe a friend can help entertain the person for a little while. Maybe there’s a local organization where you can ask for volunteers to help you out. You can also look for more formal services, such as respite care.
Involve the person you’re taking care of in these decisions, too. Ask them what they need and want from you. Maybe there’s something you’ve been doing that they actually could manage for themselves. Depending on your relationship with them, it might be appropriate to let them know how you’re feeling. You might also talk about how they can express their needs in a way that makes you feel more appreciated and less overwhelmed.
Sometimes asking for help doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped. Maybe the person you’re taking care of has unreasonable expectations of you. Maybe you have other family members who could help, but have dumped the responsibility on you.
You may have to have some difficult conversations about what you’re willing and able to do. It might help to write out your thoughts or talk through them with someone else first. Once you set boundaries, stick to them. It’s okay to be firm—people often struggle with new boundaries at first, but in time they’ll adjust, and you’ll have a much better experience as a caregiver if you communicate clearly with the people around you.