Like other serious illnesses, bipolar disorder can be difficult for spouses, family members, friends, and other caregivers. Relatives and friends often have to cope with the person’s serious behavioral problems, such as wild spending sprees during mania, extreme withdrawal during depression, or poor work or school performance. These behaviors can have lasting consequences.
Caregivers usually take care of the medical needs of their loved ones. But caregivers have to deal with how this affects their own health as well. Caregivers’ stress may lead to missed work or lost free time, strained relationships with people who may not understand the situation, and physical and mental exhaustion.
Stresses of Caregiving:
- Household disruption
- Financial pressure
- Changes in family dynamics
- Added workloads
It can be very hard to cope with a loved one’s bipolar symptoms. One study shows that if a caregiver is under a lot of stress, his or her loved one has more trouble following the treatment plan, which increases the chance for a major bipolar episode. If you are a caregiver of someone with bipolar disorder, it is important that you also make time to take care of yourself.
Signs of Caregiver Stress:
- Anxiety, depression, irritability
- Feeling tired and run down
- Difficulty sleeping
- Overreacting to minor nuisances
- New or worsening health problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling increasingly resentful
- Drinking, smoking, or eating more
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Cutting back on leisure activities
The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind, leading to burnout. When you’re burned out, it’s tough to look after someone else. That’s why making time to rest, relax, and recharge isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout:
- You have much less energy than you once had
- It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
- You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
- You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
- Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
- You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
- You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
- You feel helpless and hopeless
You Are Important Too
It’s equally important for a caregiver to look after their own mental well being, remaining centered is a must. Don’t be afraid put yourself at the top of your priority list, this IS ok…leave the guilt to the side.
Dealing With Caregiver Burnout Stress:
- Ask for help
- Give yourself a break
- Practice acceptance
- Take care of your health
- Join a support group
- Find time for laughter
Keys To Success
Here are 10 ways for a caregiver to help themselves stay healthy and be the strong support they hope to be:
- Educate Yourself: Your loved one will surely tell you about his or her condition, but the more you can educate yourself with medically-reviewed information, the better you can understand what that person is going through, as well as what trouble signs to be on the lookout for.
- Listen: This is one of the most important and helpful things you can do for someone with bipolar disorder. You don’t have to offer advice or solutions to problems—acceptance and understanding is oftentimes more effective.
- Be a Champion: During certain stages of bipolar disorder, it can feel like the world is against that person, so letting the person know you are on his or her side is amazingly reassuring. This could even be assuring the person that you promise to always keep his or her best interests at heart. As bipolar disorder often carries feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, simply affirming their strengths and positive qualities goes a long way.
- Be Active in Treatment: Part of supporting someone with bipolar disorder is being there for important events. You won’t be going to individual therapy sessions, but there will be times when you can accompany your friend or loved one to important doctor’s appointments and treatment sessions. Some of these appointments can be complicated or intimidating, so being there can help take some of the burden off of the person seeking treatment.
- Make a Plan: The symptoms of bipolar disorder can sometimes be unpredictable, so it’s best to have a plan in place should you need it. This could be what to do if the person is feeling suicidal, if he or she gets out of control during a manic episode, or even something as simple as splitting up daily chores and duties. You should make these plans when a person is in a calm, logical state of mind, and both pledge to adhere to the plans.
- Be a Supporter, Not a Pusher: No matter how good your intentions may be, sometimes a person needs to come to conclusions or learn lessons on his or her own. While you may feel like your advice should be heeded, you need to keep in mind that your job is to support the person with bipolar disorder, not save him or her.
- Be Understanding: Any mental condition, especially bipolar disorder, can be difficult to understand, especially for the person going through it. He or she may switch moods several times a day and won’t have an explanation for how he or she feels. While difficult for everyone, keep in mind the person isn’t doing it on purpose to be spiteful. The more compassion and understanding you can offer your loved one, the more positive your influence will be.
- Don’t Forget About You: When you’re caring for someone else, you still need to care for yourself. Besides making sure all of your personal affairs are tended to, you need to go out and do the things you want to do. Also, make sure to take care of yourself with good nutrition and regular exercise. The better you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of your loved one.
- Be Patient and Positive: Unfortunately, there’s no one thing to say or do to make everything better. Treating and overcoming bipolar disorder takes time, so while the end may not be immediately in sight, the journey is an important one. Patience and optimism can help smooth the road everyone goes down.
- Know When It’s Too Much: There’s only so much one person can handle, so it’s important to know when it’s time to ask for help. If the person you’re caring for uses guilt trips or other games, becomes verbally or physically abusive, or becomes too much for you to handle, it’s time to get other people involved.