5 Family Caregiver Strategies To Improve Mental Health

More than 50 million people provide unpaid care to a family member or about 22% of all adults living in the United States. Each of them has what can only be described as the toughest job in the world.

In addition to their regular job and family responsibilities, family caregivers assist their loved one with various types of personal care, including bathing, grooming, dressing, walking and exercise. They also take care of the housekeeping, shopping, meal preparation, transportation and other errands related to coordinating all the care needs of a family member.

Somewhere in between all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and care, the emotional and physical needs of family caregivers are neglected, causing physical and mental exhaustion and illness and creating what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have deemed a public health issue.

If you are a family caregiver, there’s no better time than the start of a new year to take control of your health. Rounded up by the experts at Sonata Senior Living, these five New Year’s Resolutions can curtail the physical and emotional stress caused by family caregiving.

  1. Treat Yourself

When you are caring for a loved one, months can go by in a blink of an eye. It is usually 3 or 4 months in before some realize that they have not set aside time to attend to one’s own personal needs. It is also around this time that one’s health may also begin to suffer.

Spending time and money on themselves is the opposite of what comes natural to caregivers, but it’s an important strategy for staving off mental exhaustion. The caregivers at Sonata recommend picking a minimum of one afternoon each month to “treat” oneself to an enjoyable activity. It may be a favorite pastime such as attending a concert or Florida amusement park, having dinner at a five-star restaurant, or simply getting a mani-pedi.

Many family caregivers find it helpful to create a standing monthly appointment for a massage or beauty service that “forces” them to take the “me time” they both need and deserve.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to treating yourself. Simply ask yourself the question, “What would you like to do today?” It could make the difference between powering through a few more months of caregiving or developing a dangerous case of caregiver burnout.

  1. Find a Hobby.

As human beings, we long to do the things that make us happy. Each of us has our individual passions and pursuits—those things that bring us joy that are uniquely ours.

A caregiver’s calendar is often overextended and double booked. Hobbies and activities are regarded as a luxury available only to those in their retirement years or placed on the backburner for another day and time.

The caregiver experts are Sonata Senior Living regard “hobbies” as a form of self-care. Rather than a luxury, indulging in one’s personal passions is a form of medicine for maintaining our sense of self, including confidence, self-esteem and emotional well-being. If finding time is challenging, delegate one day a week or one hour a week to finding an activity you love.

If 2023 has you feeling extra ambitious, explore Facebook groups to match up with likeminded people on countless topics from travel groups to book clubs to gardening to simple social outings for friendship and fun.

Your hobby may simply involve binge-watching a new crime documentary on Netflix. There’s no time limit or skill requirement—the only requirement is that it makes you happy and forces you to take a break from caregiving.

  1. Get More Sleep

Medical professionals generally recommend eating a healthy diet and exercise to maintain physical health, but sleep deprivation has been linked directly to mental health issues. Plus, statistics show more than a third of family caregivers do not get enough sleep.

The fact that there are only 24 hours in a day is reason enough for caregivers to not get enough sleep. Busy tending the needs of family, children, house and job demands, the only time left to attend to one’s personal needs may be in the wee hours of the night. The never-ending list of to-dos exacerbate stress and anxiety caused by caregiving, creating a dysfunctional cycle of sleepless nights.

If you find yourself having less patience or signs of depression, it’s possible you are not getting enough sleep. Most adults needs between seven and nine hours a sleep each night to process emotions. Think of sleep as the brain’s time to rest and recharge. Without it, the brain will release extra cortisol, creating cognitive functioning problems related to concentration, memory, and mood.

  1. Go Out With Friends

While your days of hitting the club may be long gone, your days of reconnecting with old friends are long overdue. The New Year is the perfect time to reach out to that friend on Facebook you’ve been meaning to call for months….or even years. Not only will you make an old friend happy to be spending valuable time with you, but you’ll gain a renewed sense of purpose by spending an afternoon off from caregiving responsibilities.

Keep your social engagements simple and flexible so as not to invite unwanted stress. After all, you are still a busy family caregiver. The difference is…..you are reallocating some of your time commitment to yourself to nurture your emotional health.

At the end of the day, the key to nurturing your mental health while juggling both life and caregiving responsibilities involves meeting your own basic human needs, which includes your happiness. Enriching your personal life with activities, interest groups, social connections and companionship will serve as a form of “sanity check” amid the constant pressure to perform well in one of the toughest jobs in the world.

  1. Make a Plan

Family caregivers are naturally giving, compassionate and selfless people, but there may come a time when you can no longer provide the level of support your loved one needs, no matter how much you want to. The uncertainty that comes with the future can create anxiety, so creating a plan for the future now, before it becomes a crisis, can provide peace of mind.

Nobody can predict how your loved one’s health needs will change, but looking at options for long-term care support earlier in the process can prevent stress. This may involve talking to your loved one’s doctor about his or her care option and visiting long-term care communities, including assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Respite care is also a good option for short-term caregiving assistance.

Assisted Living vs. Home Care

In addition to the physical and emotional toll, family caregiving is financially straining. Many caregivers find that rent in an assisted living facility works out to be more affordable than providing care in the family home.

According to the latest Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the average cost of an assisted living facility in Florida was $4,000. Conversely, the average cost of a home health aide was $4,767 and requires additional hours of involvement from family caregivers.

At Sonata Senior Living, assisted living caregivers offer support around-the-clock and 24-hour oversight. Family caregivers are given the opportunity to redirect their time and energy back to their own lives and families and refocus on their own health and emotional wellness, which is better for everyone.

Find more information and statistics about family caregiving in the 2020 Companion Report of Caregiving in the U.S. published by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.

Learn how to recognize the signs that it could be time for assisted living support.

Learn more about the award-winning independent and assisted living at Sonata Senior Living and schedule a tour today.


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