Happy Valentine’s Day! The hallmark holiday of love! Luckily, I have a partner who loves me unconditionally, every day, in good times and in bad, and let me tell you, there can be a lot of bad with chronic illness. But we celebrate the positives, and try to make the best of the negatives. Before I met Bart, I leaned on mostly my mom for support, but now I have a HUGE support group! I have my family, Bart’s family, my friends, my extended family, the list goes on! I am one lucky duck! Since Bart and I moved in together, he has taken over a lot of the “caregiver” responsibilities that my mom would do (she still does a fair bit though!): he makes me tea and brings it over to me, makes me dinner or orders in if neither of us have the energy to cook, he’ll run to the store for me if I need him to, he cleans the house on the weekends, he takes care of the pup when I don’t have the energy to, he works his butt off to pay a large portion of our bills while I’m in school for the second time around, he lends a listening ear and hug when I need it, gives me the comfy spot on the couch, brings me my heating pad or ice for the pain, brings me snacks, and the list really goes on. Bart does all of this WITHOUT asking if I need it, he offers it knowing full well by looking at me or reading through my texts, whether I’m having a good or bad day. Although those of us who suffer from chronic illnesses need a LOT of support, SO DO OUR caregivers, so this post is dedicate to Bart, my mom and the rest of my caregivers 🙂 You all need support as well! I love you!
Why Do Caregivers Need Support?
From changes in family relationships to financial stress, to the sheer amount of work involved, caring for a loved one with fibromyalgia (or any health condition) is a challenge. Even the most dedicated caregivers are prone to stress and burnout. Symptoms of caregiver burnout and depression — such as poor concentration, forgetfulness, sleep problems, changes in appetite, excessive drinking, thoughts of death, loss of emotional control, and even neglect or rough treatment of your loved one — can set in if you don’t take preventive steps. Here are more ways to get support and avoid caregiver burnout.
Watch for Signs of Depression
Leaning on friends or joining a support group can help you cope with everyday caregiver stress — but if depression sets in, you may need more help. Unfortunately, 46% to 59% of caregivers can be described as clinically depressed, raising their risk of heart disease, pain, and other chronic health conditions. Depression can also reduce your ability to be a good caregiver. So getting professional help is important for you and the loved one you’re caring for. Effective treatment options for clinical depression include talk therapy and prescription medications. Exercise, stress management, social support, and healthy sleep habits may also be part of a prescribed depression treatment plan.
Call a Caregiver Family Meeting
To avoid feeling overwhelmed or “on your own,” hold family meetings. It will take more than one meeting to establish a good caregiving routine, so talk early and often. At meetings, try to focus on current caregiving needs and solutions rather than conflicts. Talk about caregiving in honest, open terms and allow everyone — including your loved one with fibro — to contribute. Ask your loved one with fibro what kind of help he or she needs. Ask other family members what kind of help they can provide and when. Schedule meetings several times a year to keep everyone involved and updated, so that the burden of caregiving won’t fall too heavily on one person.
Reach Out for Caregiver Support
Many community, religious, and health care organizations offer caregiver support groups and services that can make daily challenges less daunting. You can also find online support groups through websites — such as DailyStrength (www.dailystrength.com) — where you can meet others interested in sharing their thoughts, concerns, and questions about caregiving. If you feel you would benefit from more intensive counseling or guidance, talk to your doctor about individual and group therapy options. Some employers also offer counseling benefits to help employees deal with emotional stress.
Make Healthy Eating and Exercise a Habit
Caring for a disabled person can raise your risk of heart disease. Women who care for a disabled spouse for at least nine hours a week were significantly more at risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease compared with women who had no caregiving duties. Two powerful ways to reduce your heart disease risk? Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein — and work up a daily sweat. 30 minutes of intense total body exercise can strengthen your heart and your mind.
Relieve Your Own Stress
One of the most important things you can do for yourself and your loved one is to take time everyday to enjoy life and relieve stress. It can be as simple as a 10-minute walk or a long soak in the tub. Not taking time for yourself will make you less productive and can damage your relationship with your loved one. Hold yourself accountable by scheduling short breaks every day at times you know your loved one will be sleeping, eating, or watching their favorite TV show. Ask a friend or family member to cover for you if needed. A consistent schedule will help your loved one become accustomed to your timeouts — so you’ll have the privacy you need to de-stress and relax.
Clear Your Head with Meditation
Meditation can reduce stress and improve mental health by helping caregivers switch off the worries that plague them throughout the day. Meditation can help quiet your mind and allow you to clear your head from all of your daily caregiving responsibilities. Benefits of meditation include fewer headaches, lower blood pressure, less pain, and an improvement in stress-related ailments. A healthier you also means your loved one will receive better care.