By Lisell Perez-Rogers
Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on February 2nd, predicting six more weeks of winter. For many, this means six more weeks of the winter blues—feelings of sadness, fatigue, and lack of motivation experienced during the colder, darker months of the year.
No matter how this time of year impacts your mood, know that it’s okay, and encouraged, to acknowledge and feel your feelings. Everyone has mental health, just as they do physical health, and it’s equally as important to pay attention to and invest in.
WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH?
Mental health is the state of your psychological, emotional, and social well-being and it affects how you think, feel, and act. You don’t need to be diagnosed with a specific condition, such as anxiety or depression, to have mental health or to take steps to prioritize and care for it. The way you tend to your mental health will be unique to you and may look different from those around you. For some caregivers, prioritizing their mental health means seeking professional counseling and/or taking prescribed medication. For others, it means utilizing coping skills, engaging in self-care, or connecting with peers and family. For many, it’s a combination and takes time to figure out what works best.
To help you reflect on your mental health and identify ways to enhance your mental wellness, we’ve compiled a list of helpful tips below. Remember, by nurturing your own mental health, you’ll be better equipped to support yourself and those you care for.
Mental health is a lifelong journey, and it changes over time and circumstance. Consider your mental health experience before and after becoming a caregiver or survivor. Ask yourself: How has my mental health changed? What has stayed the same? It’s possible that the mental health experience you’re managing today is the same experience you were managing before becoming a caregiver. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD, take a free, anonymous mental health screening.
When we struggle with our mental health, there are often warning signs that something is off. When you identify and address your unique indicators early, it can help you avoid burnout or crisis. You can likely identify these signs in your veteran, but can you recognize them in yourself?
The Alzheimer’s Association (via AARP) cites 10 indicators that a caregiver may be experiencing a high level of stress:
- Anger or frustration toward the person you’re caring for
- Denial about your loved one’s condition
- Exhaustion that makes it tough to complete your daily tasks
- Health problems, such as getting sick more often
- Inability to concentrate that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks or causes you to forget appointments
- Irritability and moodiness
- Social withdrawal from friends and activities that you used to enjoy
Are you noticing any of these signs of burnout in your life?
The best way to avoid burnout and crisis is to proactively nourish yourself. Identify ways you can easily and consistently integrate moments of nourishment into your daily schedule. Consider ways you can care for yourself emotionally, socially, physically, spiritually, and professionally.
Nourishment can take the form of removing something from your plate, delegating a task to someone else, or adding something to your schedule. Set small, specific, easily achievable nourishment goals to start—you can always build them up later. Setting yourself up for success will help keep you focused and motivated. We’ve provided a worksheet to help get you started on your nourishment goals today.
Emergencies happen and so do crises. In an emergency or crisis, it can be difficult to know who to contact. Planning ahead makes these situations more manageable and provides peace of mind. Check out this list of crisis resources for veterans and their families and consider completing the second page with personalized resources.
Keep this document in a safe, easily accessible place in case of emergency and consider giving a copy to a trusted family member or friend. Complete the second page any time you travel to a new place to be aware of the nearest local resources, too.
Everyone has mental health and there is no shame in seeking out support. You are not alone in your experiences and it’s okay to ask for help. Talk with a family member or close friend, or join a peer support group or community of caregivers. Call a warmline if you want to talk to someone, or look into professional counseling and therapy.
Setting aside time to care for and check in on your mental health is an important part of providing care for your veteran and your family. The winter blues, burnout, and instances of feeling overwhelmed are valid reasons to seek out help and are especially common within the caregiving community. Remember, your mental health matters. You are worthy of receiving care from yourself and others.
Lisell Perez-Rogers serves as the Program Manager for the Campaign for Inclusive Care for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, where she provides programmatic support to members of the Campaign team and supports the expansion and outreach of the Campaign to new and existing health care systems. Prior to joining the Foundation, Lisell earned her master’s in mental health counseling, during which time she provided individual therapy to young adults and served as a residential counselor to children and adolescents.