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  • Writer's pictureMarian Mills

Rewards and Challenges of Being a Caregiver: Insights & Tips

The Unexpected Commitment

It is natural for me to help people, advocate for them and assist them with resources to empower themselves for the future. I thought I wanted to be a nurse at one point in my life, even had a job as a CNA (back when you just needed on-the-job training) at a rehab hospital to test the waters. I was advised against it due to a back injury. So, I became a social worker, a career that I personally think is very similar to that of a nurse because both help people at some of their most vulnerable moments.

I recently found myself in a caregiver role for a family member. It was something that would come natural for me. I think it goes without saying that being a caregiver is extremely rewarding but it can also be extremely draining and challenging. Let's unpack how a "caregiver" is defined. I found a couple of different definitions, so I have combined them. A person that provides care and helps an individual with daily living activities. A caregiver is usually a family member (paid or unpaid). A caregiver can also be a non-relative paid professional. A caregiver may be necessary due to a decline in autonomy with advanced age, disability, illness/disease, or a mental/developmental decline or deficit (not due to advanced age).

When our loved one needs a caregiver, we just jump into action. We would never turn our backs on them or leave in their time of need. There is no thought of the long-term commitment. The stress, tension, or the mental, physical and emotional toll it will take on us.

A Sudden Shift

First, I want to acknowledge the struggles that a loved one may experience while trying to navigate their new normal after a devastating illness, diagnosis or traumatic injury.  The world around them is now distorted, foggy, and looks and feels differently. The simplest tasks become monumental challenges, from feeding themselves, to getting dressed, even needing assistance with bathing.

There are internal and external, battles they will face daily for a long time to come.  Your loved one will experience memory lapses, cognitive difficulties, and emotional ups and downs which may become their new normal.  They are mourning the loss of who they used to be.  The stages of grief they may experience and/or display are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These appear in no particular order and may be present for days, weeks, months and maybe even years.

Being HONEST about the Struggles

Being a caregiver is a role that requires enormous amount of emotional strength, compassion, and resilience.  It's vital for caregivers to understand and recognize that they too are mourning who their loved one used to be. It is normal to feel perplexed, overwhelmed or stressed. During this time, many caregivers will neglect their own needs to ensure that their loved one's needs are being met.

I can recall with my own situation; I missed multiple appointments, didn't exercise or eat right, I all but abandoned my schedule because it was replaced with what they needed. I would do things on my schedule around their needs. I was more aware of their needs than my own. I was able to report to doctors, therapist and specialist every intricate detail of their day-to-day interactions. I wanted to be able to answer any questions that may arise. I was able to inform the specialist of any changes in their eating habits. Update the doctor about responses to new medication, even report if they completed the exercises assigned by physical therapist.

Was I subconsciously trying to prove that I was a reliable, attentive caregiver by trying to do it ALL? It was not going to last. It didn't last. In under a year, I was neglecting myself, had increased anxiety and was no longer participating in my own daily interest.

How To Avoid Burnout: Self-Care Tips

It is always a good idea to set boundaries for yourself in all aspects in life. From your employer to your friends to your family. Even those with the best intentions can take advantage of people that don't have boundaries set. What are boundaries? Boundaries are spoken or unspoken expectations that define what a person is or isn't willing to accept in any given situation.

Setting boundaries is the first thing and best things a caregiver can do to avoid burnout. For example, say you have Monday, Wednesday and Friday set as the days you will care for your loved one, and have a professional respite service or another family member care for them on the other days. The boundary here could be to stick with the plan you have in place and don't allow anyone to "guilt" you into not taking those breaks. Don't try to do it all yourself. Give yourself breaks.

Take advantage of local services for caregivers, usually at your local Dept. of Social Services, Dept. for Aging and Rehabilitative Services or Dept of Medical Assistance Services. At least one of these agencies will have a list of state or private agencies that provide resources and services for you and your loved one. Don't forget to elect the help/support from family and friend. It can be something as simple as asking them to care for the family member while you go run an errand or ask them to rund the errand for you.

There's a countless number of self-care tips because it's not a one-size fits all. Once you have some healthy boundaries in place, doing little things to take care of yourself can be done daily, weekly, biweekly or even monthly. From getting your hair done, get a massage, go on a day trip, read a book or whatever is relaxing, bring you joy and does not put you in a caregiver role at all.

It's important to note that without boundaries, supports and self-care, a caregiver can become physically, mentally, psychologically and emotionally ill, struggle with anxiety or depression (even if there is no prior diagnosis). When we are under an immense amount of stress without relief, our bodies internalize the stress and it can turn into high blood pressure, headaches, ulcers or something more serious.

Take care of yourself, so you can continue to care for your loved one.

 Scan the QR code for a list of 10 tips for family Caregivers.

Resources. Caregiver Products. Supports

Actress, Brandee Evans, of @Starz network show @P-Valley is a caregiver for her mother who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. Brandee honors caregivers with her CAREGIVER STRONG – Unisex T-shirt line.

Visit my Depression Proof Your Life Facebook page, (7) Facebook for inspirational, motivational and supportive content.

Thank you. I hope this was helpful and inspiring.


25 views2 comments


Jun 12

This is insightful and true. Often times, caregivers learn what boundaries are and how to apply them too late!

Marian Mills
Marian Mills
Jun 12
Replying to

Thank you for taking the time to read it! I'm glad you found it to be insightful. I was speaking from experience. I am very self-aware, background in social work and know my triggers. I still jumped into being a caregiver without boundaries or a plan, and I was burnt-out within a month! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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