Caregivers have so many demands on their time and energy that caring for themselves falls to the bottom of the to do list. The problem is, chronic stress leads to major health problems such as headaches, heart disease, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, weight gain and memory problems.
Being a good caregiver means caring for yourself too. If you let your health decline, you can’t care for others. Before you think, it can’t happen to me, I’m healthy/strong, consider these facts:
- Studies consistently report higher levels of depressive symptoms in caregivers than non-caregivers.
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease caregivers suffer from depression and emotional stress 30-40% more frequently than non-caregivers.
- Caregivers have less self-acceptance and feel less effective and less in control of their lives than non-caregivers.
- Caregivers who experience chronic stress may be at greater risk for cognitive decline including loss in short-term memory, attention and verbal IQ.
So what can you do, when you have so little time. Here’s a list of ways to take better care of yourself to ward off health issues. While it can be difficult squeezing self-care in to your day, remember that you can’t care for someone else if you don’t first care for yourself. You can also try to work it into your care routine and include your caree.
- Eat a balanced diet. Poor nutrition or rushing through meals can endanger your health in the long run. Eating well doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many shortcuts to work it into a packed schedule.
- Get regular health check-ups by your health care providers. Caregivers are most likely to cancel their own medical appointments and not fill a prescription due to cost. The long-term effect can be damaging.
- Avoid extra work. Prioritize your tasks and keep a list of what needs to be done each day and a “maybe someday list.” Be kind to yourself. Recognize that there are only so many hours in the day and you can’t do it all. It is OK to leave the clean laundry in the baskets or eat scrambled eggs for dinner.
- Don’t feel guilty about setting limits for yourself. It is OK to say no. Not everything is an emergency and not everything is a need. When I am stressed out, I decide what is a need versus a want. A need is that I need to feed my family. A want is that it has to be a complicated home-cooked meal. Sometimes a rotisserie chicken and bagged salad from the grocery store is perfectly OK.
- Take a walk, ride a bicycle, swim, stretch or even work in the garden. Just get your body moving. This is a great activity to involve your caree in. Even if he/she is wheelchair bound, a walk around the block is great for both of you. You get exercise, he/she gets fresh air.
- Take time for yourself to enjoy a hobby, read, or do something nice for yourself. If it is has been so long since you’ve done something fun that you have forgotten what you enjoy, check out my small joys or self-care on a time budget post. These are great activities that can be done in a short period of time.
Be kind to yourself. Being a caregiver is challenging and isolating, and many times, a thankless job. Your caree may not be able to express thanks, but know that you are doing great work. Remind yourself with these positive affirmations. You can write them on post its and put them on mirrors, on the fridge or even in your car.