While providing support for friends and loved ones dealing with traumatic experiences or mental illnesses is one of the most important ways that you can help them cope with difficult situations and distress, it can take a toll on your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Only 60% of people with mental health issues receive mental health care, so family members and caregivers often provide the most support for these individuals. Mental health issues, trauma, addiction, and other struggles impact more people than just the person who is dealing with these issues. They influence friends, family, colleagues, and other people in their community. Helping others cope with their mental health problems and other issues can be incredibly stressful, and if not properly managed, this stress can lead to the “helper” developing problems of his own.
It is vital for caregivers, friends, and family members who are helping others through situations and issues that cause distress to practice self-care and healthy stress management. While self-care looks different for everyone, one of the best ways that anyone can make sure they are taking care of themselves when they are helping others is to visit a mental health professional.
Many people wrestle with the idea of seeking help or taking time for themselves when they are helping their friends and family members because they believe that the other individual has a more immediate or severe need. Often times, these helpers will say they will get help managing their stress after they get their loved one the help they need first. While this idea is honorable, it is not effective, and it can actually be detrimental for both the helper and the person being helped.
If you have ever flown on an airplane, you are familiar with the safety demonstrations that encourage you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others in case of emergency. This instruction is stated because if someone loses consciousness trying to assist someone else, then neither person will be safe. This same idea applies to those people who try to provide care and support for their partner, friend, or family member without taking care of themselves first. If you are suffering yourself, then you will not be able to give adequate assistance to your loved one, which means that you will both struggle. When you are helping someone who is dealing with a severe problem, practice self-awareness and set aside time to seek help for yourself if you are exhibiting signs of distress.
Signs A Helper Might be in Distress
There are several signs that might indicate that a helper is in distress. Here are some of the most common indicators:
If you notice that you are experiencing increased levels of anxiety, your caregiving situation might be causing you distress. Symptoms of anxiety include constant or overwhelming fear and worry, sleep issues, shortness of breath, and panic. Severe anxiety can get in the way of your daily life and prevent you from helping others effectively, so it is important for you to look for these symptoms and get help if needed.
Irritability and Anger
If you find yourself more susceptible to anger, outbursts or general irritation, you may be struggling to manage high levels of stress and anxiety. Keep track of your mood and make note of any drastic changes regarding anger or irritation.
Fixating on the Problem
If supporting your loved one through a challenging time begins to preoccupy all of your thoughts, it is time for you to step back and consider seeking some help. Do not allow yourself to fixate on the situation or the problem your loved one is facing. If you start to focus on their problem instead of helping them as a person, you might be feeling distress. Address these concerns before you become resentful or unable to provide further support.
Putting Others Needs Before Your Own
While being selfless is an honorable trait, the needs of others should not come before your own wellbeing. If the time and energy you spend caring for someone is negatively influencing your mental, physical, or emotional health, you need to take a break so that you can take care of yourself. Find a therapist or support group that will help you cope with this stressful period in your life so that you can be better equipped to help others around you.
For more information on how to cope with specific psychological conditions, visit Dr. Syras Derksen.