Caring for a loved one can be a challenge, but it’s easier if you take care of yourself first.
By Emcara Health Editors
Caregiving can be among the most fulfilling things a person can do in life. However, because caregivers often put the needs of their loved one first—whether it be a parent, spouse, or child—they sometimes forget to take care of themselves too.
Roughly 53 million Americans are caring for another adult without pay, according to a 2020 report by AARP and the National Alliance of Caregiving. Of those, one in five reported “fair to poor” health. Caregivers are also at an elevated risk of developing mental health disorders, according to the American Psychological Association.
Signs of caregiver stress include constant feelings of being tired or overwhelmed, not sleeping enough or sleeping all the time, becoming easily aggravated, losing interest in things you used to enjoy, feeling sad, frequent headaches and body aches, and abuse of drugs or alcohol, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If any of the above sounds like you—or if you simply want help caring for yourself while you look after a loved one—here are six expert-backed ideas to help caregivers live their fullest, happiest lives.
Sleep is the foundation of good mental health. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep each night, with younger adults and those with added external stressors (such as caregiving) sometimes needing more.
Think of sleep like the battery you need to recharge to perform the next day rather than an old piggy bank from which you can withdraw without consequence.
Caregivers who look after family members often don’t consider themselves “caregivers” and therefore don’t ask for help. Or some caregivers often struggle with accepting help from friends and loved ones. Instead of turning down offers of assistance to avoid feeling like you’re imposing, try making a list of tasks you feel comfortable delegating to a trusted person. You don’t need to wait for anyone to ask, either—friends, family, or your Emcara Health care team may be more than willing to lend a hand the moment you ask.
The stress of being a caregiver can lead to chronic inflammation, which can facilitate stress-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and depression.
However, you can fight inflammation through your diet: Eating whole foods rather than processed foods and avoiding alcohol can help caregivers fight inflammation and get more restful sleep.
|Foods to Eat Less Of||Foods to Eat More Of|
|White Bread and Pastries||Tomatoes|
|Fried Foods||Olive Oil|
|Sugary Beverages||Green Vegetables|
|Red and Processed Meat||Fresh Fruit|
|Alcohol||Fatty Fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna)|
One primary source of caregiver distress, according to the Mayo Clinic, is feeling like you have to do everything asked of you all the time. Similarly, caregivers often worry about whether they’re doing right by their loved one. Start by recognizing that your wants and needs are valid and empower yourself to say no to requests that encroach on your personal time.
Also try to identify the extent of your role in the caregiving arrangement and decide whether it’s appropriate to separate that role from your position as a friend, spouse, or other family member, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Defining expectations and boundaries at the outset, or as soon as possible, can help both parties feel better about the arrangement.
Getting your heart pumping through daily exercise has physical and psychological benefits. Blood pressure goes down, mood-boosting endorphins go up. The type of activity you choose matters less than consistency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a weekly total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity such as walking, cycling, swimming, gardening, or anything else that gets your heart rate up.
Even if you don’t have time or space to exercise, connecting with your body through breath work can help relieve stress. Any of these one-minute breathing exercises can help.
Likewise, a Brazilian study found that yoga helped improve quality of life in a group of caregivers whose family members had Alzheimer’s disease. Try this short audio yoga practice from the Institute on Aging designed especially for caregivers.
The stress and time commitment of caregiving can make it easy for caregivers to neglect relationships with friends and family, which is why caregivers especially should focus on making time for the people who make them happy. Staying socially connected makes us feel less lonely and sharpens cognitive skills, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Mayo Clinic also notes that keeping a regular social group can increase feelings of happiness and well-being. Connecting with other caregivers can be helpful, too, for trading notes on helping people with specific diseases or physical limitations. The Family Caregiver Alliance offers support groups, classes, events, and other resources for caregivers of all ages.
To learn how Emcara Health can help patients and those who care for them, call 1-800-728-0901 from 9 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday.