Mental Health

Caring For Your Mental Health While Caring For Someone Else’s

Experiencing caregiver burnout, emotional stress, or other health concerns can make it challenging to care for someone else. Ensuring you care for yourself should also be at the top of your priority list. However, self-care isn’t just about taking a bubble bath. Below are three actions you can take to care for your own mental health.

Two woman sitting outside having a conversation

Three Steps

Below are three actions you can take to care for your own mental health.

You may feel like you always need to be available for the person you care for.
These expectations can lead you to exert all of your energy and effort to show
you care. To help manage these expectations and reduce the risk of strain on
your relationship, give yourself a “permission slip”. Take time to think about what
you can give yourself permission for. Below are some examples:

  • Spending time for yourself. Satisfy your personal needs, relationships, and
    hobbies. Make a list of where you find fulfillment and pleasure. For example,
    enjoying a morning coffee alone or going for a run.
  • Not needing to be the “savior”. You can’t fix everything. List your responsibilities and identify what you can and cannot control. For example, you can drive them to a therapy session but you can’t make them talk.
  • Not being available immediately. Being constantly available sets unrealistic
    expectations and isn’t sustainable. Prioritize requests and needs. Acknowledge that they’ve reached out and set boundaries like, “Thank you for reaching out to me. I’m just running some errands right now, but I can be there for you to talk at 4pm. Would that be okay for you?”
  • Not taking their actions personally. Your care recipient may say hurtful things sometimes. Try to remember that not every statement or behavior is a personal attack. In some cases, the words said may not be conscious or on purpose.
  • Not blaming yourself. Your care recipient’s illness is biological, and some situations can make symptoms worse. Remind yourself that to be at fault for
    something means you’re in control of it. You can’t control their condition or how it affects them.

Boundaries set expectations for a more reliable and manageable form of care. Without them, you and your care recipient may experience higher levels of frustration that can negatively affect physical and mental health. Start by identifying boundaries, roles, and expectations. Below are some ideas you can use to communicate them:

  • Address the importance of sticking to their treatment plan. Review your
    role in the plan, but just as importantly, outline their role in sticking to it. This includes the importance of accessing professional help and how that role
    differs from yours.
  • Offer help within your domain. Consider limits of what you’re able to help
    with, remembering that you can’t do it all. When you communicate your role in advance, you reduce the need to have boundary conversations later.
  • Clearly describe what you want and the reason. For example, instead of saying, “You can’t keep missing your counseling sessions”, say “I want you to be able to take a shower under your own volition, and I think therapy offers the best chance of you being able to do that.”
  • Stand up to unacceptable or abusive behavior. Even though you may understand why they’re behaving a certain way, you deserve respect. Regardless of the reason, any form of abuse (verbal, emotional, or physical) is unacceptable. Communicate inappropriate behaviors in a clear and assertive way.
  • Follow through with consequences. If they break your boundaries, remember that this was a choice. It’s important for you to follow up with the consequences of that choice. Try to remember that it’s not personal, and that their mental illness likely played a role.

You don’t have to approach things alone. Find help for yourself. This can include:

  • Getting therapy or professional help for yourself.
  • Joining a support group for people caring for others with mental illness.
  • Talking to a trusted friend or family member about how you’re feeling (while
    maintaining confidentiality for your care recipient).

Communication Tips

  • When bringing up situations, talk about objective behaviors and observations rather than just your interpretation.
  • Use “I” statements instead of “you”. For example, instead of saying “You make me feel when you ”, you can say “I feel when you ”.
  • Use clear communication that isn’t angry or puts blame on the other person.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. Allow for gradual change rather than immediate results.
  • Remember that you can care for and want the best for your care recipient and stay firm in expecting respectful behavior. It’s okay to step away and come back when you feel more refreshed.

Consider This

Caregivers of people with mood disorders (like depression or bipolar disorder) are more likely to experience impacts on their own mental well being and social relationships. If this is the case for you, it’s important to care for your own mental health in addition to your care recipient’s.

Additional Resources

  • Man and woman walking together

    20+ Ideas for Managing Caregiver Stress

  • Two elderly men talking

    Dementia Caregiver Checklist

  • Link

    Dementia Companion Cards

  • Caregiver with hand on elderly woman

    Introduction To Dementia