Caring for the Caregiver
Maintaining your own health is essential to managing your role as a caregiver.
“Research has shown that caregivers have poorer physical health than non-caregivers, with an estimated 17 to 35 percent of family caregivers perceiving their health as fair to poor. Family caregivers face chronic health problems of their own and health risks, such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, poorer immune function, slower wound healing, impaired self-care, sleep problems and fatigue, increased use of psychotropic drugs, and even death among highly stressed spouse caregivers.”(1)
“Stress or mood swings rock everyone’s balance from time to time. However, when too much stress, anxiety, depression, or worries interfere with your health, career or personal relationships, it’s time to make a change. No matter how difficult things seem, by learning to harness overwhelming stress and gain emotional awareness, you can bring yourself into balance and have a more positive effect on those around you. You can also turn to friends and family members for both practical and emotional support. Throughout the caregiving process, make sure to take care of yourself. When you’re healthy, calm, and focused, you’ll be a better caregiver.”(2)
(1) AARP Public Policy Institute, “Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving, 2011 Update.”
(2) http://helpguide.org/home-pages/emotional-health.htm, “©Helpguide.org. All rights reserved. Helpguide.org is an ad-free non-profit resource for supporting better mental health and lifestyle choices for adults and children.”
Tools and Resources for Caregivers
Researchers found using social networks can spark a natural high leading to a relaxed heart rate and lower levels of stress and tension. (4) The social network can be an outlet for the caregiver to connect, communicate, and receive support and resources from friends and family as well as their network.
Additionally, social media like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Blogs offer stories, tips, resources, and step-by-step instructions to help a variety of personal and social needs.
Some ways to calm down quickly when feeling overwhelmed:
Take a Breath
- Sit or stand in a relaxed position.
- Slowly inhale through your nose, counting to five in your head.
- Let the air out from your mouth, counting to eight in your head as it leaves your lungs. Repeat several times. That’s it!
Tips: As you breathe, let your abdomen expand outward, rather than raising your shoulders. This is a more relaxed and natural way to breathe, and helps your lungs fill themselves more fully with fresh air, releasing more “old” air.
Take a Walk
Exercise can be a great stress reliever in itself, as it helps you blow off steam and releases endorphins. Taking a walk when stressed can bring you the benefits of exercise–both short-term and long-term, and it provides the bonus of getting you out of the stressful situation. This can provide you with some perspective so you can return in a new frame of mind.
Take a Mental Break
If you can steal away for a few minutes to find some of peace, visualizations and, guided imagery or listening to your favorite some music are wonderful ways to restore peace of mind. They’re easy to do, and can relax you physically as well as mentally. With practice, you can easily access your “happy place”. (3)
(3) Release Tension With Stress Relief Breathing, By Elizabeth Scott, M.S., http://stress.about.com/od/breathingexercises/ht/breathing_ex.htm
Surround Yourself with a Network of Support
There are many people in the community who care for loved ones and may or may not identify themselves as caregivers. Networking together allows you to share information, resources and support with other caregivers.
Sometimes caregivers who are used to having to do it all for others do not feel comfortable asking for help for themselves. It is a sign of being resilient that caregivers know when to ask for and seek help when needed. Support can come in many forms, including formal professional help, and some less traditional ways. Sometimes it may be seeking respite, or other government services or support groups, or it could be just asking a neighbor or friend (informal supports) to be available so you can go shopping alone or take a nap. Or, you may wish to pursue a creative outlet you have always enjoyed. These “mini-respites” are generally low, or no cost, easier to take advantage of, and designed by the individual caregiver depending on their needs.
Stress management, being mindful of how you are feeling and reacting to events, is an essential aspect of caring for yourself as a caregiver. Find reasons every day to express joy, humor, and optimism and be sure to seek out respite in order to ensure your own health and well-being so you can continue to care for your loved one in a meaningful way
Be sure to locate support in the community (religious/non-profits/neighborhood/etc.), and learn about governmental support that is available to you and your loved one through various agencies or programs. Finally, seek out other caregivers. Caregivers can support one another, trade support or help to identify other needed resources in the community. That support may include professional providers such as counselors and educators, or informal support provided by friends, family members, neighbors, faith and civic organizations.
Advocate For You and Your Loved One
“Family caregiving is hard and it always will be, but it doesn’t have to be quite as hard as it currently is. Family caregivers need to fight for their civil rights and the accompanying education, services, financial assistance and responsive healthcare system needed to overcome the problems our families confront.” (5)
The best way to provide the caregivers with the support and resources they require to care for their loved ones is to bring awareness of the needs and challenges of caregivers to federal and state legislators. The Respite Coalition is an advocacy organization that inspects public policy on behalf of caregivers. For more information visit their website at http://marylandrespitecoalition.org/
(5) National Family Caregivers Association: http://www.caregiveraction.org/