Contributed by Haley Burress
Caregiving, while rewarding, is extremely taxing on the mind and body. When so much of your energy and time is fixated on another, you might find that you forget to take care of yourself. In fact, you might even forget what it is like to function without doctor appointments, medication reminders, or sleepless nights. Instead of telling trusted friends and family, “I am overwhelmed, help me,” we tend to ignore or fail to recognize the problem until we are fully stressed out and unhealthy. Here are a few signs to look for in yourself, or in your caregiver friends, that can signal a need for a break or some extra help.
I am overwhelmed sign #1: I’m exhausted…all the time
Caregivers are tired often. Parents are up with sick or fussy kids and survive on extra cups of coffee throughout the day. A husband can’t snooze in the afternoon when his sick wife does because he needs to complete the laundry or make her next chemo appointment. Being tired often is part of caring for someone.
However, being exhausted all the time, with no relief, is a sure way to make a caregiver sick or unable to physically handle stressful situations. Watch for physical signs of exhaustion like dark circles under the eyes or consistent yawning. Listen for verbal cues of exhaustion like repeating questions or not paying attention to conversations. Someone who is exhausted might seem scattered or spacey, as it is difficult to pay attention to anything except the idea of rest.
I am overwhelmed sign #2: I’m on an emotional roller coaster…and I can’t get off
Is your optimistic friend suddenly angry all the time? Does your calm mom seem antsy and nervous lately? When we become overwhelmed, it can take a toll on our emotions. Extra caregiver stress without a break can lead to emotional disruption. It can feel awful when you are too tired or stressed out to cope with your own emotions. These emotional outbursts can even lead to some scary stuff like abuse if no one steps in to help.
I am overwhelmed sign #3: I’m not hungry
Stress often affects our appetite. A caregiver’s weight can be a tell-tale sign of their stress coping skills. Sudden weight gain or weight loss should lead you to asking your friend how she is doing and if you can help. A great way to help a caregiver is to bring over a meal and share the healing power of food.
I am overwhelmed sign #4: I don’t know how you can help
Well rested caregivers are able to delegate tasks and tell people how they can help. Well rested caregivers keep in contact with their support systems and coordinate help when they need it. An overwhelmed caregiver cannot cannot express what she needs and finds it too difficult to concentrate on tasks like care delegation. Consider setting up a Lotsa Helping Hands community to help your friend get the help she needs without having to ask for it.
I am overwhelmed sign #5: I am sick all the time
Getting sick every once in a while is common for any of us, including caregivers. However, the overwhelmed caregiver is consistently stressed out and her body cannot keep up with the stress. Overwhelmed caregivers are sick often, whether with a headache, a case of bronchitis that just won’t go away, or potentially something more serious.
If you, or your friend, are showing signs of being overwhelmed, don’t wait until it gets worse to step in and help. Chances are, a few hours of respite care can help get your overwhelmed caregiver back on track. Be honest with your assessment and tell your caregiver friend that you think she is overwhelmed. Then, give her tangible ways that you are going to help. For example, tell her that you will sit with the patient for a few hours tomorrow so that your friend can take a walk and that you will assign a task on her Lotsa Helping Hands community for help with meal prep for the next few weeks.
Helping caregivers is just as important as helping the patient. Keep your eyes peeled for signs of exhaustion and stress and offer help whenever you can.