At some point in our lives, most of us will take on the additional role of caregiver. This role can have many rewards but is often stressful, physically demanding and emotionally draining. A shift in responsibilities (i.e., from child to caregiver) can result in feelings of anger, frustration, exhaustion, loneliness, grief and sadness. While these emotions are normal, they can also make you more vulnerable to health issues.
As a caregiver, you can become so focused on the health needs of others that you overlook your own. As a result, you may experience low energy; sleep problems (too little or too much); changes in appetite, weight or both; social isolation; lower resistance to illness; feelings of irritability, hopelessness or helplessness; emotional or physical exhaustion; and constant worry.
Ultimately, these symptoms impact your ability to look after your loved ones. Being a “healthy caregiver” involves taking proactive steps to ensure your own physical, emotional and mental health.
5 key steps to promote your health as a caregiver
1. ACCEPT HELP
Say “yes” when someone offers help; whether it’s making you a meal, doing your grocery shopping or cutting your grass. This will take the burden of these extra jobs off your plate.
You can also take advantage of the many community resources available to help you care for your loved one. Common caregiving services include: transportation, meal delivery, housekeeping, companion support, support groups and respite care.
2. EXERCISE, EAT AND SLEEP
These are often the first things to fall by the wayside when you’re under additional pressure; however, maintaining healthy eating, exercise and sleep habits can actually help combat stress.
Eating a well-balanced diet and drinking adequate water will give you the energy you need to meet your caregiving demands. Regular exercise will have a positive impact on your moods, your sleep and increase your energy.
3. GRANT YOURSELF SOME GRACE
It’s important to believe you’re doing the best you can. Say “no” to requests that are draining and add unnecessary work or stress. Many caregivers feel guilty when they take time for themselves, but it’s important to give yourself permission to take a break for self-care.
4. SEEK SOCIAL SUPPORT
Stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Schedule time each week to connect with these supportive individuals to ensure it’s built into your routine. Studies show that positive social support can improve coping in stressful situations, boost emotional and mental health, enhance self-esteem and promote physical health (including lowering cardiovascular risks).
5. SEE YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
Look after your own health by having recommended screenings, vaccinations and controlling chronic disease to ensure you’re in the best state to care for your loved ones. Tell your healthcare provider about your role as a caregiver, and don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.
Taking the time to look after yourself can be difficult when faced with the many demands of caring for a loved one. Being a “healthy caregiver” is one of the best gifts you can offer the person you are caring for. Take care of yourself, so you can care for others.