Take care of yourself first
Taking care of yourself, as a caregiver, should be your number one priority. The better you’re taken care of, the more effective you can be in your caretaking role. Unfortunately, this seems to be the most forgotten on the to-do list.
The Effects on Your Health
When you are in a caregiver role, it is very common to neglect your own health. In fact, if you are taking care of your spouse and you are between 66 – 96 years old, your risk of dying is 63% higher than your non-caregiving counterparts. Even if you are in the middle, taking care of your parents while working and raising your own family, you are at higher risk for depression and chronic illness.
Even though these risks are well known and prevalent, caretakers are the least likely to care for themselves. The most common problems reported by caregivers are lack of proper nutrition, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, lack of downtime when sick and postponing their own medical treatment. On top of depression and chronic illness, caregivers are also more susceptible to alcohol and drug addiction.
Caregiving is incredibly selfless and a rewarding experience, however high stress and demands can be both mentally and physically hard on caregivers. High blood pressure, cholesterol and being overweight are also concerns. Studies show that 46 – 59% of caregivers suffer from depression.
Responsibility & Barriers
While becoming a caregiver can be a sudden or drastic uptake of responsibility that you may not have control over, it is important you take responsibility for your own wellbeing.
As a caregiver, it’s important to keep in mind how helpful and effective you will be if you become ill or even pass away. Identify your personal barriers between you and your wellbeing to work on removing them.
- What do I fear about my own needs?
- Is it selfish to put my needs first?
- Do I have trouble asking for help? Do I feel inadequate in doing so?
- Do I feel I am respected and loved by my loved one I am caring for and do I do too much to compensate?
Part of the stress that comes with caregiving is the stress we put on ourselves. Some examples of these stresses expressed by caregivers are:
- If I don’t do it, who will?
- I am responsible for the health of my loved one.
- If I do my best, and go above and beyond, I will be worthy of love and respect.
- Family takes care of family.
- I promised one loved one I would take care of the other when they are gone.
Once you can come to terms with your personal barriers, you can begin to work on them, one day at a time. Small, achievable changes are the most sustainable.
Our perception of our situation allows the way in which we cope with it. Being positive in tough times can be very helpful to your mental wellbeing.
Reported factors in stress level are:
- Is your caregiving voluntary or mandatory? If you feel you are alone or you are obligated, you will probably have much higher stress levels.
- How much support is available to you?
- Your basic coping abilities, how you handle stress. Build on your strengths.
- The type of relationship you have with the person you are caring for, whether you have taken this on out of love and duty, or in hopes of mending a relationship, the latter can lead to more stress.
- Some situations are more stressful than others: the severity of the ailment, disease, physical vs. mental etc.
Ways to Manage Stress
- Act as early as possible. Prevention is key in avoiding becoming too overwhelmed. Some signs are sleep problems, forgetfulness and general irritability.
- Identify the source of your stress and what you can and cannot change. You can only change your own actions and thoughts, no one else.
- Take action, positive changes in your exercise regime, therapeutic activities like reading, gardening, whatever works best for you, an outlet is key.
Small changes are the most sustainable, baby steps and small changes everyday and an action plan is key. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish! These could be:
- Make time for yourself, time to be alone or time to enjoy with others. Even if it’s 10 minutes a day to start, some is better than none.
- Ask for support in your caregiving activities to take some things off your plate.
Make a plan to go for a walk 3 or 4 times a week to start to get into the habit of taking charge in your fitness.