Caregiving can affect your physical and mental health. Here’s how to practice self-care while you’re juggling the challenges of caregiving.

Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In people with ulcerative colitis (UC), an overactive immune system causes inflammation and sores to form in the lining of the large intestine. Inflammation leads to symptoms like cramps, diarrhea, and blood in the stool.

Managing ulcerative colitis takes dedicated time and effort. People with this condition may have to take multiple medications, make frequent doctor visits, and possibly have surgery to control the condition. During flare-ups and as the disease gets more severe, you may need more help with daily tasks.

Between 600,000 and 900,000 Americans live with UC. Because this condition is chronic, many people who have it will need lifelong care. An unpaid caregiver, like a family member or friend, might provide some of that help.

UC caregivers assume multiple roles. Their job could include:

  • driving the person with UC to doctor appointments
  • offering emotional, financial, and other types of support
  • organizing medications
  • helping with daily tasks like meal planning and shopping
  • assisting with recovery after surgery

Caregiving can be a rewarding experience. It gives you the chance to be there for someone else, feel needed, and learn new skills.

Yet this job comes with many stressors, too. Here are some of the challenges of caring for someone with UC and how to deal with them.

Living with a chronic condition like UC can be stressful, but so can caring for someone with this condition. Caregivers typically have no training and have to learn as they go. The hours are usually long — almost 1 in 3 caregivers in the United States provide assistance for 20 hours a week or more.

Caregiving can be especially challenging if you’re juggling other responsibilities like a job, children, or both. Many IBD caregivers say they feel torn between the demands of caregiving, work, and family. Because they haven’t been trained, some don’t know how to help the person with IBD, or they worry about what will happen to the person in the future.

The role may be harder when the person with UC is experiencing a flare-up or their disease is severe. Research has found that the burden is also greater on caregivers who:

  • are female (nearly 60% of caregivers are women)
  • started caregiving at a young age
  • also provide for other people in the home (such as children)
  • earn less than $30,000 a year

Looking after someone with IBD can affect your physical and mental health, as well as your finances. Caregivers are more likely to have:

  • anxiety and depression
  • difficulty keeping a job
  • family conflicts
  • sleep problems

Burnout is also common among caregivers. Experts define caregiver burnout as a state of exhaustion, in which you experience low energy and high stress.

It can also be hard to hold down a full-time job. More than 70% of IBD caregivers said they were less productive in their jobs, and over 30% had to take a leave of absence from work. A lack of work limits your income, leading to financial instability.

Caregiving also leaves less time for self-care, which can compromise your own health. Almost 1 in 5 caregivers in the United States say their health is fair or poor.

An inability to manage the physical and emotional effects of caregiving could even shorten your life. Caregivers face a higher risk of death than non-caregivers.

Unlike short-term illnesses such as the flu, UC is a lifelong condition. That means the burden doesn’t get easier over time. As the person’s condition gets worse, the caregiver’s responsibilities increase.

You can’t be a good caregiver to your loved one if you’re burned out or sick. Here are a few things you can do to take care of yourself while caring for someone else:

  • Know your limits: You can only do so much each day. When it comes to responsibilities that are too much for you to handle, get help from other family members, friends, or a paid nurse.
  • Take breaks: Make time each week to do the things you enjoy, like going to the movies or getting dinner with friends.
  • Be open about your feelings: If you feel overwhelmed, tell the person you’re caring for that you’re struggling and need help.
  • Care for yourself: Try to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise. Yoga is particularly good for relieving caregiver burnout. Research has shown that the combination of deep breathing and gentle poses helps improve sleep, mood, and quality of life.

Another way to ease some of the burden and stress of being a caregiver is to reach out for help. You might start by asking friends or members of your religious organization (if you belong to one).

Many organizations offer services and support to caregivers. Try one of these resources for advice:

  • Caregiver Action Network offers tips and provides an online group where caregivers can connect, as well as a free help desk staffed by caregiving experts.
  • Family Caregiver Alliance provides care planning, wellness programs, and other services to family members caring for someone with a chronic condition.
  • The Caregiver Space has created a space for community members to ask questions or just vent when things get difficult.

You can also find caregiver support groups on social media sites like Facebook and at hospitals in your area. If you’re not sure where to look, ask your loved one’s doctor for recommendations.

Caring for someone with a chronic condition like UC is rewarding but also challenging. If caregiving becomes overwhelming, it can have both short-term and long-term effects on your physical and emotional health.

To avoid caregiver burnout, ask for help when you need it and take time for yourself. If you need advice, try reaching out to a caregiver organization or a healthcare professional.