It comes as no surprise that when a loved one is sick your own well-being can be significantly affected as well. And when you’re acting as a caregiver for that family member or close friend, the associated mental and emotional fatigue that may result should not be overlooked or diminished. In fact, by not paying attention to the signs of compassion fatigue—which include insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and poor self-care, among others—you run the risk of burn-out and seriously impacting the quality of your life.
The first step to coping with your mental and emotional fatigue is to accept your feelings as valid; they are a product of your deep care for and commitment to your loved one. By then prioritizing your health and wellness, not only can you begin to feel better, but you’ll also be able to continue to support your loved one in the ways that they really need. In addition to speaking with your primary care provider about any concerns that you might have, here are five ways to reduce mental and emotional fatigue when your loved one is sick.
1. Make time for friends and fun.
While spending time with friends might sound like a luxury given your busy schedule and many responsibilities, it’s really a necessity—especially when you’re devoting so much of your time to caring for a sick loved one. Investing in these important relationships not only boosts happiness and reduces stress, but it can also help you cope with difficult life events. Whether it’s meeting up for a weekly coffee date or monthly brunch, there’s nothing like having a good friend by your side through all of life’s ups and downs.
2. Prioritize self-care.
Though your focus may be on the well-being of your loved one right now, your own health and wellness should not go by the wayside. In addition to keeping up with your routinely scheduled medical appointments, be sure to make time to strengthen both your body and mind. Regular exercise coupled with other practices such as mindful breathing, meditation, and yoga can increase your energy and help you to be more fully present in each moment. If your loved one is feeling up to it, you might even invite them to join you!
3. Seek out a caregiver support group.
Discussing your experience as a caregiver with others who understand exactly what you’re going through (because they are or have been in a similar situation themselves) can be invaluable. With plenty of caregiver support groups readily available—both in person and online—you’ll be able to ask questions and feel comforted knowing that there are thousands of people around the world who are ready to lend a listening ear.
4. Do something that makes you smile every day.
Whether it’s getting outside for some fresh air, strolling through the farmer’s market, baking a batch of cookies, reading a book, or watching your favorite movie, commit to doing something every day that brings you joy.
5. Talk it out with a professional.
Although confiding in trusted friends is certainly beneficial, at times it can also be useful to discuss your experiences in a safe, confidential, and non-judgmental space with a professional therapist. By working closely with their clients, therapists can help an individual become better able to manage their feelings and concerns as they care for a sick loved one. And with the rise in telehealth (the use of telecommunications and virtual technology—like video chat—to deliver health care outside of traditional health care facilities), you can get the attention you need without leaving the comfort of your home; many insurances have even added this as a benefit of certain plans! Additionally, there are lots of affordable (or free) online resources available that are designed to help with just about every issue, which can be especially useful if you’re unable to work with a therapist.
Acknowledging that you’re mentally and emotionally drained when caring for a sick loved one is not a reflection of weakness or a lack of compassion. In fact, it’s just the opposite. By prioritizing your health and wellness, you’ll be better equipped to support your family member or close friend in the ways that they need, and you truly desire.