You’ve been taking care of your elderly mother for months now, and seeing her smile is a huge pick-me-up every day. But lately your energy is tapped out, your spouse isn’t happy, and you never seem to have enough time for coffee with your friends. Serving as an informal caregiver for an aging in place loved one is highly rewarding, but it can also be stressful and mentally taxing. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which means it’s also the opportune time to focus on your mental health and wellbeing as a caregiver.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
Most days family caregivers spend so much time focusing on the mental health of their loved ones that they neglect their own. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), these are the physical signs of caregiver stress:
- Low energy
- Achy, painful or tense muscles
- Persistent headaches and illnesses
- Upset stomach and other GI-related problems
In addition to the lingering physical effects, caregiver stress can take these mental and emotional forms:
- Anxiety and depression
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Substance abuse
- Sleeping difficulties and even insomnia
Left unaddressed, that pent-up caregiver stress can easily morph into full-blown fatigue.
Mental Health Tips for Caregivers
Here are some caregiving tips to follow on the road to ensuring better mental health:
Do Fun Activities Together
You’ll probably spend a lot of time with your senior, so why not participate in some fun activities that you both will enjoy? Take a cooking class with mom or go fishing with dad. If mobility isn’t an issue, spend a lot of time outside so that you can both enjoy nature’s tranquil sights and sounds. If your senior is homebound, do some puzzles or crafts together to pass the time.
Establish a Routine
Following a set routine makes most seniors feel comfortable, so establish one for the both of you. Create a daily chart that includes meals, bath time, doctor’s appointments, medication compliance and housecleaning, and then post it on the fridge. If something comes up that interferes with that routine, make sure to let your loved one know as far in advance as possible.
Seek Emotional Support
It’s common for informal caregivers to feel walled off from others. But feeling isolated can exacerbate emotional problems, so make sure to get some much-needed mental support from so