To talk about unpaid caregivers’ wellbeing, we have to talk about multiple job-holding.
According to the CDC, “multiple job-holding is on the rise.” In other words, it’s become more and more common for people to have more than one job–often not to make extra spending money, but simply to make ends meet. The Census Bureau says that more than 8% of those in the United States require second and third jobs in order to keep afloat. That’s roughly 13.1 million people.
What does that have to do with the emotional health of unpaid caregivers?
Actually, a lot. If so many people without unpaid commitments take on multiple jobs to put food on the table, it makes sense that an unpaid caregiver (supporting themselves and others) would have to take on multiple work positions, too. 2009 statistics show that about 27% of caregivers reported a moderate-to-high level of financial hardship due to caregiving.
Being an unpaid caregiver is a full-time job for many, but the need for a separate source of income creates emotional and physical strain.
So, how does this strain affect a person, and what can be done about it? Take action on taking care of yourself with the tangible tips below.
The physical and mental impacts of unpaid caregiving
Here are some facts about unpaid caregivers in the United States:
- Unpaid caregiving isn’t an isolated experience. In 2015, around 43.5 million caregivers in the United States had provided unpaid care in the past year.
- Multiple studies show that unpaid caregivers are more likely to face depressive symptoms and symptoms of anxiety, compared to the general population.
- Unpaid caregivers are more likely to struggle with a substance use disorder.
- Not only is it more common for women to take on a second job, but it’s also more common for women to be caregivers. This creates a disparity in who feels the mental, physical, and financial impacts of unpaid caregiving.
- Caregiving increases the likelihood of chronic stress, which can lead to a number of health detriments, including but not limited to higher blood pressure, insomnia, and chronic pain.
- Caregiving is associated with extensive physical, emotional, and financial costs.
On the mental health side of things, it’s common for caregivers to feel as though they’ve lost their sense of identity or sense of self. Many unpaid caregivers experience feelings of guilt, anger, frustration, or helplessness. It’s also reported that many don’t feel as they can handle all of their responsibilities related to caregiving.
Caregivers can feel left drowning in both emotions and responsibilities, with little time or energy to address these struggles. That said, it’s not all negative. Being a caregiver expresses a great deal of love, and as Alexandra Drane, Co-Founder and CEO of ARCHANGELS puts it: “There’s no more foundational element of humanity than to care for others and be cared for, ourselves.”
So, what can you do about the emotional and financial burdens of this bad*ss responsibility you’ve been shouldering?
Caring for your emotional health as an unpaid caregiver
Here are some things you can do…
1. Remember this sentence: “Both can be true.”
What does that mean? When acknowledging the strain of caregiving, it’s common for caregivers to feel guilt. It’s important to remember that two things can be true at once. You can feel strained or stressed out and love the person you’re caring for. You can acknowledge that you have a lot on your plate without it being about (or the fault of) the person you’re providing care for. The two are not mutually exclusive.
2. Prioritize relaxation and practice saying “no.”
We all need time to wind down, but those who care for others tend to be givers across the board. As a result, you may find yourself stretched too thin, even outside of caregiving and your professional life. It’s okay to say “no,” and it’s vital to take time for yourself. There are days when you’ll have to stay in and take a bath after work instead of, say, helping a friend move or taking on an extra shift.
If you feel strained and notice that life is pushing your limits, reduce unnecessary stressors where you can. Strip your obligations to the minimum. Relax more and take on less outside of your employment and care-related obligations. When your threshold is higher, you can say “yes” more again.
3. Create a supportive daily routine.
Are you sleeping enough? Do you stay up tossing and turning due to work-related stress or miss meals due to a busy schedule? It’s crucial to attend to your basic needs, and yet, it’s something that can be so easily forgotten when caring for others.
You don’t have to spend your few hours of free time on an Instagram-worthy meal prep or spend all of your money on over-hyped self-care products. Solidify the basics first. Give yourself time to wind down before bed, and try to keep a regular sleep schedule. Pack snacks or have easily accessible meals ready.
Small changes like making sure that you have snacks handy to avoid a drop in blood sugar or making sure that you are scheduling adequate time for sleep into your days can make a big difference, and for many people, that’s what self-care really is.
4. Have some go-to coping skills.
For high-stress moments, have some tools you can turn to. This might be breathing exercises (an easy example is the 5-5-5- breathing exercises, where you breathe in for five seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, and release your breath for five seconds – repeat this as many times as you need to), positive affirmations, meditation, journaling, art, or something else.
Listening to music can be cathartic, as can taking a walk in nature. Again, it’s about finding what works for you and your life. If you find yourself feeling down and need a laugh, making a playlist of funny songs is a great way to get there. If you’re indoors for most of the day and live in an area where you can get a walk in, setting aside time to do that is a great way to care for yourself.
5. Emphasize social connections.
Make sure that you’re setting aside time to see friends. Or, spend time increasing your social connections and making new friends. This could mean that you join a support group (whether that’s in person or online), or it could mean that you sign up for class, activity, or meetup. You may even find a support group created specifically for others in a similar situation.
Social connection is imperative for physical and mental health, and it’s shown to boost a person’s capacity for coping with stress. Sometimes, this will mean turning to a friend to talk about the difficult things; other times, it’ll mean that you focus on having a good time and put your worries aside for the day.
Additionally, part of socializing is utilizing your support system–by asking for help! Work to break past the fear of asking for help from other people; remind yourself that enlisting a friend to help is a sign of trust, and a great honor to most people.
6. Get anonymous peer support.
If you’re going through a tough time or think that you may benefit from talking to someone, consider using the support network on Supportiv.com. The support network is not therapy, nor is it a replacement for crisis care. Instead, it is a service that allows you to chat with other people, confidentially, within less than a minute.
There is great value in being able to talk about what you’re experiencing, with people who get it. Alexandra Drane of ARCHANGELS explains how caregivers can benefit: “If I think about Supportiv, it brings one of the most extraordinary things to its community: the opportunity for folks, no matter what they’re dealing with, to feel less alone in it.”
“That is so needed by caregivers–to say, ‘I’m not the only one who was so angry last night at [insert name of person you’re caring for] that I dug my fingernails into my thighs to keep myself from saying something out loud? I’m not alone in that? Ok, well then I feel better.’ Being able to name these things is incredibly helpful.”
7. Recognize the limits of emotional coping for tangible needs.
If you’re terrified about being able to pay rent or pick up your loved one’s medications, emotional coping mechanisms will only go so far. It’s beneficial to ask for help in the form of emotional or social support, but sometimes, the real game-changer is tangible or material assistance. This could look like:
- Financial assistance, whether that’s for yourself or the person you’re caring for
- Asking someone to take on some of your responsibilities as a caregiver, even if it’s on a short-term or infrequent basis
- Something unique to your situation, such as finding low or no-cost childcare if you’re a parent
No one can do it all on their own.
Easing financial impacts of unpaid caregiving
This brings us to the next goal: easing the monetary strain of unpaid caregiving.
1. Find grants.
One of the best things you can do to ease the financial strain that comes with unpaid caregiving is to find grants and other forms of financial assistance. These could be for yourself or the person you’re caring for. There are a variety of grants out there that may help informal or unpaid caregivers.
The availability of these grants may depend on your country, state, and the specifics of who you’re caring for. For example, there are special resources out there reserved for people caring for veterans, as well as grants reserved for those caring for people with specific medical conditions or life situations.
To find grants that are applicable to you, search for terms that are unique to your situation. For example, if you live in Oregon state, you might search, “unpaid caregiver financial assistance Oregon.” If you’re in the United States, check on resources available to you based on the county you live in. Often, since local resources are available to a smaller pool of people, they’re easier to access.
2. Get paid for your work as a caregiver.
If you’re struggling to find grants and other forms of financial assistance to meet your needs and are in the United States, use a walkthrough or government resource to find information on getting paid for your efforts.
Also, try using ARCHANGELS’ resources page, to find help specific to your state.
3. Anticipate unexpected costs.
According to materials from the National Patient Advocate Foundation, caregivers may end up responsible for unexpected medical and transportation costs, as well as for meeting other financial needs of the person they care for.
It can feel natural to step in and help when the person you care for is struggling financially, and your loved one will surely appreciate the assistance. However, don’t forget your own financial situation, as an unpaid caregiving role limits your earning ability. Work with your loved one to plan for the types of purchases that tend to pop up throughout the month, and account for them in their budget.
4. Call 211.
For those concerned about paying bills or meeting other personal needs, calling 211 or your local equivalent is an excellent way to learn about what’s available to you. Resources you might find through your local information hotline include but aren’t limited to food assistance, rental assistance, utility coverage, help covering transportation costs, child care, and more.
You deserve to use the resources that are available to you, so don’t hesitate to take the first step toward getting financial assistance today. If you’re struggling to meet your basic needs, read this article for more information.
No matter how much you love what you do, you’re bound to struggle occasionally. That’s only human, and you don’t have to go through it alone. Having someone to talk to can take a lot of weight off of your shoulders.