What is Chronic Caretaking and Does it Affect Your Health?

It has been proven that those care taking for family members or other individuals will experience extremely high levels of stress, thus the stress can compromise an individual’s entire wellbeing. Care taking for someone else, whether a family member who is sick or a friend in need of constant care creates a fine line between the caretaker maintaining their healthy lifestyle versus the caretaker falling into an unhealthy lifestyle and not taking care of the “self” within them. To avoid falling into an unhealthy lifestyle as the individual cares for another person; before, during, and after, the caretaker must be aware of their personal needs in order to maintain their well-being.

When an individual has crossed over the line into an unhealthy lifestyle of care taking it can be called chronic care taking. Chronic care taking means the individual has consistently put their needs last, thus compromising their well-being. Chronic care taking can occur because the individual feels that if something negative happens to the person being cared for it is their personal liability for the incident and they blame themselves. Chronic care taking creates a subconscious unsettlement in the caretaker, which soon creates an emotional turmoil of extreme stress, consistent feelings of personal unfulfillment in their own life, and unhappiness. When the individual is left untreated and living with these strong negative emotions, it may lead to the silent disease of depression.

Once an individual is living with untreated depression it is highly likely they will seek out coping mechanisms to calm their mind. This is when the individual is at risk for substance abuse, whether legal or illegal. A common form of legal substance abuse is emotional eating. Emotional eating can come in many different forms; an individual may restrict their food intake to a low-calorie diet, completely omit eating food, or begin to binge when they eat food. An individual also may start over-exercising or quit exercising when they are living with untreated depression. Other examples may be an individual will borrow prescription medications from the one they chronically care take for and mix them with alcohol or other drugs. An individual may also start abusing illegal street drugs to cope with the emotional turmoil existing in their mind.

Every method of self-abuse when depressed, whether legal or illegal, is extremely serious because depression is a silent disease and the chronic caretaker’s coping mechanisms can quickly destroy their health. The individual’s coping mechanism may also turn into a dangerous addiction. The feelings of hopelessness that lies within the depressed individual’s mind can push stronger patterns of self-abuse, which must be treated with quick action.

So how can chronic caretakers break their cycle of coping mechanisms and treat their depression?

The first step to fixing an unhealthy situation is recognizing and admitting there is a problem. The next step is to be willing to change at any cost. There are three highly common situations and solutions I personally experienced and implemented that helped me put the brakes on, realized I was creating more bad than good by being a chronic caretaker, and personal solutions I created that ended my chronic care taking. All you need is paper and a pen to get started.

  • 1. The situation: You’ve gone so long putting your needs second or dead last you need to get back in touch with what you used to enjoy. The solution: Make a list of favorite things you once did and new things you want to try. What opportunities interest you? What sparks your curiosity? The goal of this list is to get you back to recognizing that your needs are just as important as others. It is okay if you struggle with the list. After years of being a chronic caretaker, when I created this for the first time, I blankly stared at the sheet of paper for 10 minutes!
  • 2. The situation: If leaving the house to do something or being away from the one you are chronically caring for gives you as much guilt as eating a whole cake or abusing substances, I have the solution. The solution: You need to accept that self-care is not selfish. Have a family meeting and tell your family you are going to make some personal changes in your life, or write up a personal contract you sign that says you are going to agree to begin the journey of taking care of yourself. Find external caretakers that can assist you in your care taking so you can have time away and to yourself. It will be nerve-racking to let go of the one you are chronically caring for but you will be surprised how good you feel when you use your list of activities you used to enjoy and engage in them.
  • 3. The situation: You realize your chronic care taking has left you completely drained, depressed, and in a cycle of self-abuse. You also realize you cannot make a list of things you once enjoyed because all you want to do is sleep, lay in bed, and ignore all outside communication with the world. The solution: Call your primary physician who can refer you to a psychiatrist or professional counselor. This means it is time to start from the ground up and rebuild your life. There is no shame in admitting you have a hidden disease in your mind. Allow the doctors and counselors to aide you out of your self-abuse. I promise, with the right doctor and/or counselor, it will work.

After following these tips, if anyone in your circle of influences, whether it be family or friends, is hateful, negative, or unsupportive of your personal change, you may be involved in an unhealthy relationship. If it is worth the effort, such as with a partner, you may want to consider seeing a counselor to discuss your situation. If there is an issue with a friend you have known for years, you may be surprised but they may need to leave your life so you can get better. As you go through the process of re-balancing care taking and fitting the “self” into your life you will come out refreshed and more than ready to care for the ones you love. Also know I am here to encourage you to make healthy decisions in your life and always take care of yourself just as you love your family, friends, and others. As Always, Live Happy. Live Healthy.

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