Caring for a loved one is a position many caregivers simply “find themselves” in. Often, they have not made a formal decision to become a caregiver. In fact, some family caregivers initially may not even realize that they’re taking on that role. No matter how you find yourself in the role of caregiver, it’s a commitment that impacts one physically and emotionally – both in positive ways, and to be true, at times in negative ways.
It’s the negative effects, though, that tend to have the biggest impact on a caregiver’s health and well-being. Not uncommon are feelings of guilt, financial stress, and exhaustion from lost sleep or from balancing a full-time career with caregiving duties. Some caregivers cope with the many changes and demands of caregiving with relative ease, while others are at risk of developing depression and anxiety, as well as physical manifestations of chronic stress, such as risk of heart attack and stroke.
As a caregiver, it’s vitally important that you take care of yourself first. Neglecting your own health can negatively affect your ability to care for others and lead to caregiver fatigue. After all, you can’t take care of someone else if you don’t practice self-care and take care of your own well-being.
“Caregivers will often express feelings of guilt when talking about taking time for themselves. Remember, self-care is a very unselfish act. If you don’t take care of your own physical and mental health, then you are compromising your ability to be there and show up for others.”
- Season DaSilva, Care Management Manager, Careforth
Contemplate this: If the person for whom you provide care was in poor health, missing appointments, and experiencing stress and anxiety, would that be acceptable to you? Probably not, yet caregivers report experiencing all the above issues while also providing care for another person.
Following is information for caregivers meant to help identify when self-care is needed and to thwart some of the possible negative impacts of caregiving. We aim to convince you that self-care is a critical component to your caregiving routine.
Evaluating Your Caregiving Situation and Spotting the Signs that Self-Care is Needed
About 36 percent of caregivers suffer from stress, fatigue and burnout. To spot the indicators of caregiver fatigue before it overtakes your health and well-being and impacts the care you provide, take a look at your current situation and do a self-care check in. Are you experiencing any of the following signs of caregiver burnout, which signals the need to make self-care a priority?
- Constant worry or anxiety, especially about the future
- Frequent pain, headaches, and body aches
- Weight loss or gain
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Irritable or moody
- Catching colds more often than usual
- Placing unreasonable demands on yourself as a caregiver
- Neglecting the need for socialization
Which Caregivers are at the highest risk?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are certain risk factors for caregiver stress including being female, living with the person you are caring for, and if you have a higher number of hours in a given week spent caregiving. Other risk factors may include:
- Individuals providing care for a year or longer
- Caregivers managing the treatment for a long-term condition
- Caregivers age 65+
- High burden caregivers
- Dementia/Alzheimer’s caregivers
- Live-in family caregivers
If you can relate to any of the items on these lists, the good news is that there are simple steps to readjust your routines and take preventative actions towards improved self-care. And remember, improving yourself and your self-care practices are a selfless act, never selfish.
Self-Care Activities To Improve Your Routine
“Self-care = providing support to enhance caregivers’ ability to care for another person during difficult times. And self-care can come in many forms: active listening from others, a hug, verbal encouragement, clinical support for accessing available resources, and so on. Self-care may look different for everyone, but taking care of yourself in any way is a vital part of your caregiving journey.”
- Joselyn Zhong, RN Care Manager, Careforth
By adding self-care activities into your routine, not only can you better your own physical and mental health, but you will also be improving the level of care you can provide to your loved one, ensuring that you can always show up for those who rely on you – including yourself! Consider focusing on these self-care activities:
- Stay involved in activities you love and don’t bottle up feelings. And make sure you have people to talk to. Better yet, ask them to take over caregiving duties periodically so you can focus on self-care.
- Create a Caregiving Support Team. Asking for help is commendable.
- Delegate responsibilities and ask for help (so important, we are reminding you again). And let go of the need to do things perfectly.
- Eat for energy, not comfort, as you are what you eat. A healthy, balanced diet is the way to go.
- Practice mindfulness to help manage anxiety and stressors.
- Exercise regularly, and it doesn’t have to be intense. A simple walk outside can do wonders to one’s mood. Bonus? Vitamin D from the sun’s rays.
- Don’t sacrifice on sleep. Sleep helps improve brain performance, mood, and health.
- Journal and note your achievements to lift you up on down days. And make sure to pull it out and read it regularly. You are making a difference!
Incorporating these activities in your daily life can help you start prioritizing your own health, while also positively improving the care and support you can provide to others. Also remember, you don’t have to do everything yourself and it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s crucial to engage your Caregiving Support Team in your caregiving journey, ensuring that you don’t spread yourself too thin and allow yourself time to take care of your well-being. By allowing others to assist and support you, you can also engage your care recipient and interact with new people to create shared memories, all while expanding your Caregiving Support Team in the process.
Playing the role of caregiver can be a demanding task. But if you know your limits and set boundaries, prioritize your own health, and practice self-care, you will ensure that you can and will continue to provide the best care to your loved one while avoiding the risk of burnout. And remember, as a caregiver you are equally responsible for both your own and your loved one’s health and care, because that’s not only fair, but critically important in a successful caregiving journey.
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