Caring for your mental wellness during National Family Caregivers Month
National Family Caregivers (NFC) Month occurs every November to raise awareness of caregivers who offer support and care to their families. It is also a time for celebrating family caregivers and finding ways to improve support for them as they navigate the unique challenges of caregiving. If you're a family caregiver, there are several ways you can provide care, compassion, and self-love to yourself this November.
What Is the purpose of National Family Caregivers Month?
In 2022, President Biden re-proclaimed November as National Family Caregivers Month to recognize the "love and sacrifice of more than 50 million Americans providing crucial care and medical assistance to parents, children, siblings, and other loved ones." The month has been around since 2008 and has a new theme each year. Caregiver Action Network organizes National Family Caregiver Month annually and provides resources to caregivers, including social media kits, resource lists, and theme guidelines.
The purpose of the month is to ensure that those who offer compassionate care and support to their families are seen for their efforts. As many of these Americans can also have full-time jobs, school schedules, appointments, and responsibilities, family caregiving can be a challenging but rewarding responsibility. NFC month aims to remind communities and caregivers that their mental health matters and that they deserve the right to resources, mental healthcare, and support while caring for loved ones.
Ways to celebrate National Family Caregivers Month and support family caregivers
There are a few ways you can celebrate November this year, whether you are a family caregiver, an individual receiving care, or a community constituent wanting to support family caregivers in your community. Consider the following:
Use the annual observance hashtags #NationalFamilyCaregiversMonth, #familycaregivers, and #NFCMonth
Thank a caregiver in your life
Learn about how caregivers work to give back to their communities
Create informational pamphlets or posters to educate communities
Send cards, small gifts, or care packages to caregivers through a local organization
Make a meal for a caregiver in your family
Offer to do a caregiver's duties for the day if you're part of their family or organization
Celebrate Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, which also occurs in November
Advocate for local resources
Donate to local caregiving organizations or family companies
As a caregiver, you might also celebrate this month by focusing on your mental health and wellness. Although providing care, love, and support to your family can be a busy job, caregivers can also benefit from being cared for, listened to, and supported by their communities, families, and selves.
How caregivers can care for their mental health
Below are a few methods you can utilize as a family caregiver to care for your mental health and wellness this November and beyond.
Accept or reach out for help
Offering support to those you love may take up more time out of your day. Although it can be a rewarding way to give back to family, studies have found that many caregivers experience compassion fatigue, a type of mental burnout that can occur from caring for other adults and family members long-term.
Accepting help from other family members, friends, or a caregiving organization may be beneficial, even for a few hours each week. During this month, national family caregivers might consider practicing self-care or taking quiet moments alone to consider your mental health needs.
Being a caregiver can also take a financial toll. If you are caring for your family due to financial challenges, you may also be eligible for support or further resources. Consider contacting the following organizations or programs for assistance, grants, or advice:
National Family Caregiver Support Program: A program that offers grants to states and territories to fund local family caregiver support options.
National Alliance for Caregiving: A “non-profit coalition of national organizations who share a vision of a society that values, supports and empowers family caregivers to thrive at home, work and life.”
Financial Steps for Caregivers by WISER: A support option for financial planning as a caregiver.
Cancer Support Groups for Caregivers: Support groups throughout 170 locations for caregivers caring for families experiencing cancer.
Eldercare Locator: A tool to find support or assistance for caregivers caring for an individual over 70.
Family Caregiver Alliance: A non-profit that offers resources, education, and information on low-cost services and programs.
Although many caregivers may believe they can or "should" function on their own, studies show that social connection is essential for mental and physical well-being. Reaching out for support can be brave, and you're not a failure if you need a break. You may feel better able to care for those you love when you have given yourself the love and care you seek.
Consider a mental health screening
Around 40% to 70% of caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for depression. Due to the mental health impacts that this job can have, you might consider taking a mental health screening test. Mental Health America offers several free tests online. Although these quizzes do not replace medical or therapeutic advice from a licensed doctor or therapist, they can be practical tools for understanding your needs.
You might also be able to receive a free or low-cost screening at your regular primary care physician check-up or through a local non-profit or mental health clinic. Suppose your results come back with a "likely" result of any mental health condition. In that case, it could signify that you would benefit from meeting with a therapist or psychiatrist for mental health treatment.
Mindfulness is a practical and research-based approach that can be utilized to level your nervous system and ground you in a specific moment. A recent meta-analysis of 12 studies found that family caregivers of adults with dementia could significantly reduce symptoms of depression and feelings of burden after mindfulness and acceptance-based interventions.
Mindfulness can involve any activity using your five senses or environment to connect your body, mind, and energy with your present moment. Below is one exercise you can try called "deep seeing:"
Find an object in your space that you find visually appealing or complex.
Visualize the item as profoundly as possible, noticing its curve, shape, color, texture, or aspects.
Try to make observations without judgment. For example, you could think "That flower is red and has yellow stems," instead of "That flower is weird."
After seeing that item, move on to another. Remind yourself that you are part of your environment and that you are safe.
Deep seeing and other forms of mindfulness can help caregivers reduce overwhelming emotions and focus on an aspect of their life they can control at the moment to feel grounded and ready to continue their work.
Find a creative outlet
Studies have found that singing and art interventions are especially effective for caregivers experiencing stress. Those who learned new creative skills in the studies felt they had a higher sense of well-being overall.
Consider joining an art skills group, choir, or music group like an orchestra. Being part of a social community where you can create may help you process emotions without verbal speech and connect with others who may understand you. There might also be caregiver groups that offer creative retreats or art groups in your area.
Do a self-check-in about your needs
Many caregivers may feel they must give more than they healthily can to care for their family, potentially neglecting their own health. The feeling of not having time to care for yourself as needed may be stressful. In these cases, know that resources are available to empower caregivers to find support. Although it might feel like you are alone and must put your needs last, caring for your mental and physical health can be essential for your future and current well-being and the care of your loved one.
If you struggle to continue your caregiver duties, consider calling a hotline or contacting local resources. You could also try an exercise like journaling to express your emotions and understand what you need in more detail. Try to be realistic about what you can and cannot offer. If you feel you are in crisis, reaching out to a hotline for resources can be a brave step.
If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Help is available 24/7.
Although many resources are available to caregivers, counseling can offer a unique personalized professional perspective that you might not find from a non-profit or local support group. Counselors are highly trained and licensed individuals with experience in mental health challenges, including those often felt by family caregiver workers.
Many caregivers experience scheduling and financial barriers to in-person therapy. If this is the case for you, you might consider online counseling. Online counseling is often more affordable than in-person therapy and can often provide appointment slots outside of regular business hours—during early mornings, late nights, or weekends.
In addition, one study on internet-based interventions for family caregivers found that many caregivers experienced improved depression and anxiety symptoms after treatment, proving a potentially promising option for those experiencing barriers to in-person therapy.
You can get started with online counseling through a platform like BetterHelp, which offers entry to thousands of therapists, each licensed and vetted for quality. These providers can support you on various topics, including caregiving, adverse events, and life challenges.
National Family Caregivers Month is part of a larger conversation about caregiving and a national strategy to support family caregivers throughout the country. Millions of people care for not only seniors but also family members with illnesses and special needs. If you are a caregiver, there are many resources available for you to take advantage of in November and beyond.Caregivers often provide lifesaving, empathetic, and essential services to those in their families, and mental health and self-care can be crucial. If you're looking for further professional guidance, consider reaching out to a therapist to get connected with resources and unique coping techniques personalized to you. If you don’t have time for in-person therapy due to your caregiving role, you might consider online therapy. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping caregivers. You don’t have to fill out a long form to get started; you can simply complete an online questionnaire and then be matched with a therapist, typically within 72 hours. Take the first step toward caring for your mental health as a caregiver and reach out to BetterHelp today.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
What Questions Should A Caregiver Ask?
What Is The Importance Of Caregiving In Every Family?
What Are The Challenges Faced By Caregivers?
What Are Important Skills For A Caregiver To Have?
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What are the risk factors for caregivers?
What is the impact of being a caregiver?
What are the emotional challenges for a family caregiver?
Why caregiving is important especially now during the pandemic?
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