Are you taking care of someone who suffers from a mental health condition? If the answer is yes, you may feel unprepared or unsure of how to help your loved one. Feeling uncertain is normal, but letting worry and isolation overwhelm you can create tremendous problems down the road.
There are ways you can get the support you need to maintain your own balance – which is crucial to your loved one’s health, too. Here are 5 ways you can take care of yourself while providing support for someone you care about.
- EDUCATE YOURSELF
The more you know about mental health in general and your loved one’s specific challenges, the more empowered you will feel. Knowing what to do in case of emergency is especially important.
Seek out information on your loved one’s diagnosis. S/he may be facing more than one mental health condition at a time, so you may need to learn about multiple conditions and how they affect people.
To prepare for an emergency, make sure you know who to contact. You will need to be prepared to dial 911 in any life-threatening situation. If your loved one is expressing suicidal thoughts or a plan, you can reach Crisis Services Canada at 1.833.456.4566. This free service is available 24/7.
- TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
Caring for your own physical and mental health will help you take better care of your loved one. Be sure to keep your own medical and personal care appointments. Getting a haircut, manicure or massage can give you a refreshing break and help you feel more like yourself. Taking time for a quick walk or sitting with a friend in a sunny coffee shop can restore your spirits and empower you to keep going.
Don’t underestimate the value of time spent on your own. Even a 15-minute break with a book or magazine will help you shift gears in the midst of a demanding day. It may seem selfish, but in fact, being generous with yourself is actually a gift to your loved one – since s/he depends on you for so much.
- GET PLENTY OF SLEEP
Finding enough time for sleep can be difficult, especially when your loved one is in crisis. Worry often keeps caregivers awake – and sleep loss can lead to extra stress the next day.
Read about the factors that govern good sleep and try to set a healthy bedtime routine. Helpful resources can show you how to restore a healthful sleep cycle.
- DON’T SKIP EXERCISE
Physical activity not only strengthens your immune system but also boosts the stress-busting chemicals that protect your own mental health. Caregivers often feel they don’t have time to work out because their loved one’s needs come first. It may take a little creativity, but you can squeeze in mini-workouts. It may be something as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or trying out an internet-based exercise class you can do at home. You might also ask family and friends to help out while you head to the gym a couple of times a week.
- SEEK BALANCE
This might seem like the hardest advice to follow when you’re supporting someone who faces daily struggles. But setting boundaries that determine how you will and will not help can be a lifesaver. In fact, failing to establish limits will almost certainly harm your health over the long term – and damage the relationship you share with your loved one.
Being an active part of your loved one’s recovery requires you to stay healthy and viable. You may feel guilty saying “no” to certain requests, or setting aside time for the things that help you maintain your balance, but in fact, you are protecting and preserving the energy you need to be a good caregiver.
KNOW WHEN TO SEEK HELP
Remember that therapists, counsellors, and support groups are not just for people with mental health issues. Seeking professional help will make you more aware of how you are doing as an individual – giving you the support and answers you need to remain strong and effective.