Your Mental Health Merits Care!

Every year in May, mental health is the topic of discussion. Mental health challenges come from an array of circumstances. Considering the mental health of a caregiver is often a second thought until they experience burnout, a health challenge, or even an early death. Yes, the caregiver has died due to the lack of caring for themselves. Let’s talk about it! Let’s make it make sense.

When taking on the role of a caregiver, losing your identity follows close behind. Many do not even see it coming. Going about the days and nights of caring for our loved ones, we lose ourselves without realizing it. I am speaking from true experience! Caring for my mother was a full-time job, mentally and physically. All hands and feet, eyes and ears were on deck watching over, managing doctor visits, being present during hospitalization(grateful there were few of those), medication management, equipment management, meal preparation, bathing, grooming, toileting, dressings, undressing, laundry, grocery shopping, exercising the mind and body of our loved one, and somewhere in there delivering entertainment …shall I go on? This is the reality of caring for our loved ones. The care is always directed toward the care recipient. The caregiver rarely gets a break or breather. The truth is that all attention is directed toward loved ones, and caregivers lose themselves. Hearing the stories of many caregivers… the reality is they become guilty(I did), angry(I did), frustrated(I did), hostile(I was), isolated(I was), sleep deprived (I was),sick( I was), and burnout( I was).

Caregivers’ Mental Health Merits Care

First, acknowledge that what you do matters. Second, recognize your ability and inability to deal with the many factors that caregiving demands. Daily caregiving rituals can begin long before the sun rises and well after the sun sets. The demands are many, and they occur in no set order or time of day. When demands of the role happen, action is required for safety’s sake, and moments of personal self-care become less and less. Family caregivers must take daily steps to address their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Tips I’d like to share include:

· Getting up an hour or more to self-care

· Find times in the day to nap(nap when loved ones nap)

· Invite your village to help out(family and friends)

· Respite care is affordable

· Make time for health care(physicals, eye care, mammograms, and prostate examinations

· Listen to your favorite music

· Read a good book

As Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate, know that I know the journey. I share from a place of empathy and experience. This is not what I heard; this is what I know. Let me emphasize that taking care of yourself is not selfish or shameful! Finally, have a sense of humor. Some things in the caregiving space require you to laugh out loud! Just do it!

Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman is a retired registered nurse and case manager, CEO of Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate and author of From the Lens of Daughter, Nurse, and Caregiver: A Journey of Duty and Honor, and The Black Book of Important Information for Caregivers.

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