Taking care of an ill or aging spouse is not easy. You love your spouse, and you want to give them the best possible care no matter what they’re going through. However, being a caregiver for a spouse is undeniably exhausting. Not only do you have so many extra tasks to complete in a day, but you have to carry the mental and emotional weight of being the main caregiver for someone in need. Self-care is crucial for spousal caregivers. In order to provide the best possible care and avoid caregiver fatigue, you have to find a healthy balance in life. Looking out for your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being will benefit yourself, your spouse, and your marriage.
Signs of Caregiver Fatigue
When you dedicate so much of your life to being a caregiver, you may not even notice your exhaustion. Burnout often happens gradually, so the symptoms creep into your life without your knowledge.
The following are some of the most common signs of mental exhaustion for spousal caregivers:
- Feeling anxious, worried, or on-edge for much of the day
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed or like you don’t have enough time in the day to accomplish your responsibilities
- Physical exhaustion; sleeping for more than usual
- Difficulty concentrating
- Forgetting your own needs; not socializing with friends or engaging in your hobbies
- Abusing alcohol, abusing drugs, overeating, or using other unhealthy coping mechanisms
- Feeling impatient or resentful toward your spouse
How Spousal Caregivers Can Prevent or Reduce Caregiver Fatigue
Caregiver fatigue is a painful and difficult experience, but it is reversible. By putting measures in place to care for your own physical and mental health, you can maintain enough emotional energy to take care of your spouse while living a happy and meaningful life.
Here are six things spousal caregivers can do to prevent or reduce mental exhaustion:
1. Build breaks into your schedule.
No one is able to work all the time without ever taking a break. Spousal caregivers who are on-the-go from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep will quickly become exhausted. Instead, allow yourself to take regular breaks throughout your day.
Building breaks into your daily schedule may help you honor your own mental and emotional health. Caregivers often tell themselves that they’ll take a break but then get so busy with tasks that they forget or forgo their break. By committing to a break at a specific time in your day, you’ll be more likely to actually rest. Take this time to enjoy a leisurely hobby, talk to a friend on the phone, or simply have a peaceful moment to yourself.
2. Seek respite care.
While short breaks throughout the day can help you maintain your energy levels short-term, everyone needs a longer break once in a while, too. Look for community organizations or other resources for seniors in your area. These programs may offer respite care for senior caregivers so that you can take an afternoon, a day, or a weekend to yourself. Use this time to relax and recharge so that you can return to your caregiver role with a newfound energy.
If you can’t find professional respite care, you could ask trusted family members or friends for help. A loved one could stay home with your spouse while you run errands or go out for an evening, or they could bring over a meal or help with household chores to reduce your workload.
For many spousal caregivers, the actual act of finding support from others isn’t as difficult as overcoming the emotional hurdle of asking for help. Many caregivers, especially seniors, strive to handle everything on their own and worry that requesting support is a sign that they’re failing. Remember that healthcare involves a vast network of people, and there is no industry where one person manages every task alone. You are allowed and expected to need help, and asking for support is a sign of wisdom and self-awareness.
3. Maintain your physical health.
Your physical health and your mental health are connected, so taking care of your body will help you feel more energized both physically and emotionally. Do your best to eat balanced, healthy meals and get regular exercise. It can be difficult to prioritize healthy living when you have so many other responsibilities, but any small step you take for your physical health can have major benefits.
Sleep is also a key component of physical health for spousal caregivers. Even if it seems like you don’t have enough hours in the day to get adequate sleep, try to get at least seven or eight hours. Feeling rested can make an immense difference in your mood, energy, and ability to withstand stress.
4. Nurture your marriage.
Being a caregiver can affect the dynamic of your relationship, which can take a toll on your mental health. Unfortunately, many spousal caregivers start to feel more like a caretaker than they do a spouse. Instead of an equal, mutual relationship, the dynamic becomes imbalanced.
To combat this, it’s important to compartmentalize your role as a caregiver. When you’re taking care of your spouse medically, consider yourself a caretaker. When you’re interacting with your spouse as their life partner, don’t discuss medical topics. By separating these roles in your mind, you can maintain the loving interactions with your spouse and strengthen your bond.
You and your spouse should strive to find moments where you can set the health issues aside and simply be a married couple enjoying each other’s company. This will help you avoid being consumed by your caretaker responsibilities.
5. Seek emotional support from others.
Support groups for spousal caregivers are very helpful for managing exhaustion and burnout. Connecting with people who empathize with your experiences can help you feel less lonely or isolated, and these caregivers can offer you valuable words of advice. You can express your exhaustion or frustration to people who know exactly what you’re going through in a confidential and supportive environment.
6. Talk to a therapist.
If your caregiver fatigue is starting to take a serious toll on your mental or emotional well-being, therapy can help. You and your spouse could attend marriage counseling to learn how to manage this new dynamic in your partnership, or you could attend individual counseling to process your experiences as a caretaker. This provides an opportunity for you to privately express your feelings about being a caregiver while also developing healthy coping skills for stress.
Mental exhaustion for spousal caregivers is a serious concern. Support is available, though, and it is possible to take care of your spouse while continuing to feel happy, healthy, and energized. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or exhausted with your role as a caretaker, Blue Moon Senior Counseling is here to help. We offer mental health services for older adults facing a wide variety of challenges. Reach out to us today to connect with a licensed counselor in your area.