EARLY WARNING SIGNS
How do you know when you’ve not taken care of yourself? What are your early warning signs? Do you recognize them? How long does it take you to make a change and do some intervention?
I am an introvert and need time to myself on a very regular basis. When I don’t get that time, I become irritable, easily frustrated, sometimes tears. I hurt more in my neck and shoulders and upper chest and back because that is where I hold my tension. I begin to take negative comments more personally than usual. I crave sugary and fatting things that I know are not good for me and will just feed the way I feel about myself.
Most of the time, I just ignore the early warning signs. I don’t know why I do this, because I know I will pay for it later when it gets into something more serious and I’m forced to pay attention. I guess I just think I’ll do it later and keep on plugging along.
NEXT LEVEL WARNING SIGNS
When I hit the next stage, I’ve usually developed a chronic ache or pain in some part of my body, but usually I come face to face with depression. And that affects the quality of my life and the joy I want to feel on a regular basis.
Do you do this too?
Did you know that nearly 91% of all caregivers have depression issues? They are constantly giving to their loved one and often are met with criticism and complaints because they didn’t do something right or they forgot something. It isn’t that caregivers are not capable, but caregivers are overworked, under valued and misunderstood. Many claim to have few if any visits from friends and families. Their caregiving jobs are so demanding, there simply isn’t time.
And yet, this is exactly what a caregiver needs – a friend, a family member, a phone call or visit, some time away.
When we spend so much of our time focused on another person’s care, we deplete our own energies. And, while that is important and to be commended, when we are depleted, we are no longer able to give the kind of care to our loved one that they need. We become irritable and bite back at the criticism and complaints. We may lose our temper, or we may fall into a depression and sadly go through the routines of caregiving, but without the love and encouragement that we need to be giving.
EFFECTS OF DEPRESSION IN OUR LIVES
Depression can not only put you into a funk, but it can deplete your immune system making you susceptible to illness, fatigue and some deep depravity of the soul. It may cause you to eat poorly, to sleep restlessly and to exercise only rarely if at all. These things just make depression more difficult to overcome because you usually don’t want to do anything about it. Life feels meaningless and useless and you begin to believe all those negative things you hear and say to yourself each day – I am worthless, I am useless, the world would be better off without me, why am I doing this, what is the point or purpose, nobody wants me, is this all there is to life? So many miserable questions that run through your mind and feed that depression. It grows with each thought and begins to eat away at your soul until you are unable to cope with life itself.
But I’m here to tell you, you can get through this. This is normal for caregivers. It isn’t a fault in your character. It is not something to be ashamed of or worried by. It is important to seek help when you get to this place in your caregiving experience.
RECOGNIZING EARLY WARNING SIGNS
It will be important for you to learn to recognize the early warning signs for you. Spend some time assessing how you got to this place. What is different about you? When did it first appear? Do you take things more personally? Do you hurt in places that you didn’t before? Do you lash out in anger? Do you sink into a puddle in a corner of a dark room? Have you stopped seeing friends or getting away from the caregiving role? What are the warning signs in your life?
Once you recognize the warning signs, you are on the road to recovery. These will be critical for you to continue to hone down so that you can catch the warning signs earlier the next time. It is easier to take care of depression before you become depressed. That seems like a no brainer, but let me tell you, it’s difficult to catch those early warning signs and actually make a change to avoid the depression. Our brains do funny things and argue with us about whether we can handle it. As full time caregivers, we often feel invincible and believe, albeit falsely, that we can handle it, we are strong, we can take care of ourselves later, we have too much to do right now. I’ve been there. I know what it feels like. But I also know how it feels to have sunk into a depression that affects every corner of your life and sends you into the fetal position where you just want to escape the world and sometimes life itself. It’s not fun.
A NEW PLAN FOR YOUR HEALTH
So, as a recovering depression addict, if there is such a thing, I’m going to suggest a new path, that is working for me and just might help you too. Here’s my suggestion:
1. Know your early warning signs
2. Make a routine for daily self care and stick to it
3. When you feel the early warning signs, have a list of additional things you can do to take care of you
4. Don’t ignore the warning signs
5. Strive to get to a place where you catch potential problems before they become a warning
If you’re already in a deep funk, you can get yourself out of it, but you may need professional help. That professional help may come from a pastor or a counselor or a psychologist. Whatever route you choose, know that your mental health is extremely important. Your loved one is counting on you and you need to be at your very best for them. Don’t shortchange your mental health.
START A NEW ROUTINE TO TAKE CARE OF YOU
If you you are not as far as needing professional help, it’s time to make a change in your routine starting today.
1. Get some exercise. Even a quick walk around the block will help.
2. Write in a journal. You don’t have to ever read it to anyone or even keep it for that matter, just get out your frustrations and sadness.
3. Eat something healthy. A piece of fruit, some raw veggies, a smoothie, whatever makes you feel like you are doing something for your health.
4. Practice positive thinking and gratitude. You could incorporate this into your journaling. Begin with one positive thought and hold it in your mind for the next 20 minutes. Return to that thought throughout the rest of the day.
5. Do something for fun. What do you like to do? Read a book? Do a craft? Go to the gym? Meet a friend for lunch? See a movie? Do something just for you that feels deliciously like a useless waste of time when you have so much to do.
6. Strive to get good sleep. People need different amounts of sleep. Whatever it is that you need to feel rested, work on getting yourself to bed and up on time every day.
7. Consider 15 minutes of meditation at the beginning of the day. Sit quietly and comfortably and allow your thoughts to pass through your brain without engaging them until you have found that sweet spot where you are able to relax and intentionally become aware of the stress and worries draining from your brain to your toes and leaving you totally relaxed.
Lots to consider and I’ll go into more depth on these in other articles on this site, so check the ones that peek your interest.
YOU MUST CHOOSE TO BRING THE BALANCE
Don’t let depression get you to a place of no return. Fight back early on, every single time. You can do this. You are not alone. But you must bring the balance back into your life to stay whole and healthy.