Have you found yourself abruptly thrown into a caregiver role? Suddenly caring for a loved one with health or mental health illness(es)? You wouldn’t be alone! In fact, you would be among the over 8 million Canadians who are caregivers for a loved one(according to 2012 Statistics Canada Survey). No matter what circumstances have brought you into this role, you are bound to be met with many different and difficult emotions - a sense of duty and obligation, fear, anxiety, resentment, guilt, and so much more.
Acute traumatic situations are commonly fraught with emotion. At a time when most attention is directed toward the individual who has suffered the trauma, it is crucial that you as a caregiver are also being attended to. You may be facing a long road ahead of you - with your loved one on the road to recovery or battling a chronic condition. You are likely scared, unsure of your abilities, how you will juggle your previous life duties with these new care expectations, and whether life will ever be normal again. Many caregivers feel hopelessness, despair, resentment, and depression.
To be successful in your role as a caregiver, it is important to be prepared, educated, and supported.
Here are some tips that may help you adjust and sustain your role as a caregiver:
- Remember, you can’t be an effective caregiver unless you take care of yourself first! Make sure you are getting sufficient rest, eating well, and ensuring you maintain healthy activities.
- Know your limits, and know where to turn and what your options are when you are nearing those limits.
- Educate yourself - make use of the health care professionals that are involved in the care of your loved one. Ask questions. Make a list of questions or concerns so that you don’t forget them. Write down all the answers. Ask for reputable educational material that you can refer to at a later time when you are better able to retain the information.
- Evaluate your informal support system, and make use of it wisely.
- Delegate tasks to family, friends and neighbours who may be of assistance, freeing up precious time that you could devote to more important duties (for example, have a fan out list so that you only have to call one person with updates, have someone in charge of grocery shopping or laundry duties, assign someone you trust who can spend some time caring for the children, etc.).
- Most people want to help you out but just aren’t sure what to do. Give them clear options and choices, use their strengths, and you will be surprised by how many informal supports are around you.
- Use informal community supports - some religious or cultural communities volunteer to help those in need.
- Assess your financial situation - can you afford to supplement some of the informal supports you have with some formal supports, what is your budget, how long can you afford it, do you have insurance that covers any supports, will you or your loved one need to seek financial assistance (i.e., the Ontario Disability Support Program), etc.?
- Seek formal community supports, as needed - Community Care Access Centre provides some in-home supports covered by your OHIP based on need. Other agencies provide supports for various prices (some have subsidies and sliding scales that gear the cost to your income).
- If you are able, seek counselling or psychotherapy services - this will give you a safe environment to discuss your thoughts and emotions, and will help you to develop tools in order to cope effectively in your daily life as a caregiver.