If you're just stepping into the role of being a primary caregiver to a family member, friend, or neighbor, chances are you're feeling a bit overwhelmed about what the future may bring. As a new caregiver, you are focused on the needs of your loved one and the new responsibilities that come with taking charge of their care – not to mention all those other day-to-day responsibilities, be they related to home, family or work, that cannot be ignored.
So how do you find the right balance and get off to a good start as a new caregiver? Here are some tips that can help make the experience rewarding for both you and your loved one.
- Learn about your loved one's medical situation – Whether it is illness or injury that has placed your loved one in the position of needing your help and support, knowing as much as you can about the medical details and implications of their condition will put you in a better position to meet their needs. It will also help you feel more confident and effective as a caregiver, helping you ease the anxiety that most people experience as they step into this important role.
- Embrace and deal with your feelings – Caregiving is not easy day-to-day, no matter how much you love and appreciate the person you're caring for. Feelings that most caregivers experience include grief at the circumstances of their loved one, as well as for the changes that taking on this new responsibility brings to their lives. Some feelings of resentment and anger are common, as is frustration and guilt – often stemming from those other feelings -- among many others. While you may not fully understand why you're feeling these things, it is important to acknowledge that you are rather than bottling your feelings up; accept these feelings as a normal part of the care-giving experience. Additionally, find someone you trust to discuss these feelings with, a friend, family member or a caregiver support group. Taking care of yourself emotionally is essential to taking good care of your loved one.
- Reach out for help – While the primary responsibility for your loved one's care may be all yours, that doesn't mean that you can or should do everything yourself. Ask family and friends for help – you will, after all, need time to rest, de-stress, socialize and take care of yourself too. If possible, bring in some professional help to take some tasks off of your hands, such as housekeeping for your loved one, or perhaps to do some shopping, meal prep, or personal care. Explore the resources available in your community – talking with other caregivers, a local respite center or home care agencies in your area can be a great place to start.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as you embark on your role as a new caregiver is that maintaining balance between your needs and those of your loved one is essential to both of you. Running yourself ragged makes it much more likely that you'll suffer caregiver burnout, which can seriously affect your health, as well as your ability to provide the loving and consistent care that your loved one needs.