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The Importance of Self Care When
Looking After Elderly Relatives

The role of a caregiver is to provide care and assistance to older adults who need help with day-to-day life activities. They also provide companionship and emotional support to the person.

Caregivers are often family members or relatives of the elderly person along with friends, neighbors, or other people who voluntarily help out. They usually take on the responsibility of managing the financial matters of the elder as well as medical care.

Caring for an elder is a demanding yet rewarding responsibility that requires patience and compassion from those who want to be caregivers. It can be difficult, but it is worth it in the end. This guide will advise you on how to look after yourself as a caregiver.

How to deal with major emotions

Emotions are powerful. They can be life-changing, but they can also be overwhelming and difficult to manage sometimes. Caregiving is an emotional job, and caregivers often find themselves riding the roller coaster of emotions. The major emotions that caregivers experience are anger, guilt, embarrassment, sadness, frustration, worry, and happiness.

What is caregiver guilt?

Being a long-term carer can leave a person feeling guilty. This form of guilt is referred to as caregiver guilt. It might seem strange to some that guilt becomes an issue; however, feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, and grief for the person they once knew can leave a caregiver experiencing the following:

  • Resentment over the level of care needed
  • Anger over unresolved issues
  • Guilt at having to make decisions that impact their relative
  • Grief for the loss of their relative, especially in the case of dementia

If you ignore your feelings of guilt, it can lead to some serious repercussions. If left untreated, exhaustion and feelings of guilt can lead to both mental and physical symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Sleepiness and fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Unexplained aches and pain
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or family life and increased isolation from friends and family
  • Burnout

What is burnout?

Exposure to long-term stress, such as caring for an elderly relative, can lead to burnout. This is a form of exhaustion where the sufferer feels overwhelmed or swamped by their responsibilities. The following are common signs of burnout:

  • Lack of motivation and enthusiasm
  • Exhaustion
  • Emotional detachment or numbness
  • Anxiety or panic attacks

Physical symptoms include aches and pain, headaches, colds, nausea, gastrointestinal problems, and muscle cramps.

The caregiver needs to take steps to look after themselves. If possible, prevention is far better than remedial action.

The importance of self-care

Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do for both your physical and mental health. Though you may not always have the time, you can do some simple things to make sure you are taking care of yourself.

Every day, many caregivers are left feeling stressed, exhausted, or worn down by the constant responsibilities that their loved ones demand. However, it is important to remember that caregivers should also take care of themselves to be at their best. Here are some easy ways caregivers can take time for themselves so they don’t get too worn down:

  • Set aside a few minutes each day or week to engage in an activity they enjoy
  • Make sure to set boundaries
  • Make healthy choices
  • Take regular exercise
  • Eat well
  • Avoid dependence on drugs or alcohol
  • Meditation

Don't let your responsibilities stop you from taking a few minutes to do something that you enjoy. Having another interest other than caring will give you a break.

Set boundaries

Setting emotional boundaries means learning when to say "no." You don't need to have a long explanation or reason. If you feel unable or unwilling, then a simple "I cannot commit to that at the moment" is sufficient.

Make healthy choices

It can be tempting to use food, alcohol, or even drugs to dull your emotions. It is far better, in the long run, to eat well and take regular exercise. You will have more energy and be more resilient to the challenges caring for another brings.

Meditation

Whether you start breathing exercises, guided meditation or are happy meditating on your own, it is proven that meditation helps you regain energy and sleep better.

Take time for family and friends

Putting yourself first does not have to mean you are neglecting your loved ones. Make sure to take time out for family and friends. Look after yourself, and it will benefit everyone.

It is also important that you remember you are trying your best in a difficult situation, and it is OK to take a break. If you are on the brink of burnout, sometimes taking a break can do wonders. One way to do this is to get help from other family members or friends until you have regained your strength and have time to continue taking care of responsibilities. Remember that sometimes even if you take a break and regain your strength, some situations are no longer remedied. It is important to make sure you are spending time with yourself and your loved ones while you take on the role of caregiver so that you do not feel frustrated about the situation in the future.


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