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How to Practice Self Care When a Loved One Has a Mental Illness

Woman practicing self care while helping her son deal with a mental illness

Whether a parent, sibling, or child of someone living with a mental illness, these individuals carry a heavy weight with them on a daily basis. Although some don’t want to be called caregivers —because they feel like they’re doing what any family would — loved ones of a person with a mental illness truly provide unique support and care, sometimes without even knowing the specifics of their relative’s condition.

Mental illness is hard enough for people who struggle with these debilitating conditions. The physical and mental health of the caregiver(s) involved is just as important and can impact the entire family unit if they fail to take care of themselves.

Fortunately, there are methods of self care that can be utilized by someone who is helping to care for a loved one with a mental illness or mental illnesses. If this sounds like a role you are playing with someone in your family, keep reading to discover helpful ways you can make your physical and mental health a priority as well.

1. Take small breaks

As a family member or loved one of someone with a serious mental illness, the unwell individual’s behavior and symptoms often directly affect the caregiver. This can happen through physical disturbances, lashing out, or emotional abuse. In turn, you may feel less patient and angrier toward your family member.

When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, give yourself five minutes to step outside, take a deep breath, and clear your mind. In challenging situations, if you feel like you are losing patience, the best thing to do is to temporarily remove yourself from the situation.

Practice meditation or learn breathing techniques that can help alleviate anxiety or stress. Focused breathing can help slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, and promote feelings of calm.

Pay attention to your stress levels and how you feel throughout the day. Do these feelings dissipate when you take breaks, exercise, have social interactions outside of the home, or do other regular activities?

Check in with yourself each day and assess how you are feeling. Warning signs of becoming over-involved or all-consumed by your responsibilities to your relative with a serious mental illness can include a loss of appetite, trouble falling or staying asleep, and aggravated impatience.

2. Find a support group or counselor

Like facing any other challenge in life, support comes from having a community. In group therapy, learning about the similar challenges that people are facing in their roles as caregivers can help you feel validated and that you aren’t alone.

There are millions of people helping their loved ones through mental illnesses. Hearing other people’s stories can be helpful as it will remind you that your feelings and experiences are normal. That doesn’t make them any easier to manage, but it can be a relief to know others are dealing with the same scenarios and struggles with their family members’ mental illness.

Support groups can also help reduce anxiety, depression, and burnout in relation to taking care of a loved one with a mental illness.

If a support group doesn’t feel like the right fit, you can still seek support and services from mental health professionals. Oftentimes the therapist or psychiatrist helping your loved one will want to meet with you as well. There, you will learn to cope with any heaviness you feel, manage your emotions, and set realistic expectations for what your daily life should look like and what is expected of you.

3. Nurture important relationships

Particularly for your spouse or other children, nurturing important relationships is essential to your own well being, as well as other family members.

Family is one of the most influential factors in a person’s life and development. If you have other children in the home with no mental illnesses, they still require your presence and involvement in their daily lives.

The benefits of nurturing a relationship with your partner affect not only your own happiness and overall health but the adjustment and well being of your children and all family members.

Family dynamics play an important role in childhood mental health and development. The structure of a family relies heavily on the relationship between parents, so it’s crucial to prioritize your partner’s needs and make time for that important relationship, as it affects every other person in the home.

4. Prioritize social interactions and friendships

Outside of your spouse or partner, ensure you maintain important friendships with people you trust.

Friends will be a pillar of support for you as you navigate tough situations with the mentally ill individual. Meaningful relationships have been shown to reduce stress in people helping or providing care.

Alternatively, caregivers without social support or community can negatively impact the person with mental illness and the entire family dynamic. The isolation that comes with mental illness can play a role in the caregiver’s social interactions, often making it more difficult to find people who understand what’s going on and the family’s struggle.

Setting aside a few nights a month to get out of the house, see friends, socialize, and talk about “normal” life will likely be the breath of fresh air you need. Confiding in people you can trust is essential to learning to cope, reducing stress and anxiety, and staying optimistic.

5. Establish healthy boundaries

Boundaries are critical for caregivers because they prevent burnout, isolation, and depression. When the tasks become all-consuming, the caregiver’s mental health can be negatively impacted.

It is crucial to know where your limits lie and to vocalize them for your own health and well being. Boundaries can help caregivers avoid feelings of guilt, anger, and resentment toward the individual with the mental health condition.

If the tasks involved in taking care of your family member become overwhelming, consult with the individual’s primary care provider or therapist to discuss other options for their care that may better serve everyone involved and to advocate for your own needs.

6. Maintain physical health

Those who take care of their physical and emotional health are more capable of taking care of a loved one who is mentally ill. Self care includes prioritizing your own health so you are strong, focused, and well-equipped to help the family member in need.

To maintain strong physical health, make sure you are doing the following:

1. Getting regular exercise

The benefits of physical exercise are abundant for mental and emotional health. Exercise can help reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and it improves cognitive function and self-esteem. It can also alleviate social withdrawal symptoms, improve mood, and increase energy.

2. Getting enough sleep

Sleep deprivation can negatively impact your psychological state, but it’s also linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, obesity, and depression. Sleep is a basic human function and it is critical for great physical health and well being.

3. Eating healthy, nurturing foods

Healthy foods help energize the body and mind and improve your focus and overall mood. Eating well also decreases the risk of developing chronic diseases later in life. With healthy foods in your body, you’re less likely to have mood fluctuations; your head is clear and your body is capable of helping in any way that’s needed.

7. Keep a journal

Many therapists recommend journaling because it encourages self-awareness and improves mental health conditions resulting from internal and external conflicts. This idea can be directly applied to caregiving or supporting a mentally ill person.

Whether you are experiencing guilt, impatience, stress, anxiety, irritability, or any other emotion, writing down those feelings can improve your self-awareness and help you cope with the emotions you feel when helping to care for someone with a serious mental illness.

You can also keep track of the self care methods that seem to relieve stress and prioritize those in your daily life in order to keep a clear mind and an optimistic perspective on the person’s recovery.

Access the Support Your Loved One Needs with Clear Behavioral Health – Virtual Mental Health Treatment

Caring for someone with a mental illness can be physically and emotionally challenging. When you don’t set your own mental health as a priority, it will be impossible to provide support for your loved one. It’s important to know what treatment options are available to determine if they’re in the best environment for mental wellbeing.

At Clear Behavioral Health, our mission is simple— to help those struggling with mental health live healthy and purposeful lives. We are proud to offer a clear path to meaningful recovery for a loved one or family member. Contact us today to find out more information or to talk about our treatment options.

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