As a caregiver, you spend much of your time looking out for those around you. The caregiver role requires emotional and physical energy and requires you to face difficult situations and devisions on a regular basis. In this process, it is important to take care of yourself so that you can be in the best shape to provide care for your loved one. These steps will provide you with valuable tools to help you manage your own physical and mental health as a caregiver.
Notice The Effects of Caregiving on Mental and Physical Health
The first step to managing your health is to know the causes and warning signs of stress and its impact on your body. If you are experiencing any of the items listed below, you may need to spend more time prioritizing your health or closely monitor any changes in your health.
Causes of Health Decline
1. Causes of physical health decline: Caregiving for a loved one around the clock is physically demanding. These are some things to look out for that might be negatively impacting your physical health:
- Working long hours with few or no breaks
- Having inconsistent and unhealthy eating habits due to a busy schedule
- Making unrealistic and packed daily to-do lists that leave you feeling exhausted at the end of the day
- Leaving no time for physical exercise
2. Causes of mental health decline: The emotional and physical demands of being a caregiver also negatively impact your mental health. These are some demands that put you at high risk of mental health illnesses.
- Working long hours with poor work/life balance
- Failing to get adequate sleep or maintain a regular sleep schedule
- Setting no limits or boundaries on your workload
- Feeling inadequate and overwhelmed when you can’t complete all of your responsibilities in a day.
Warnings of Stress
The following are warning signs to look out for that you are under a dangerous level of stress.
- Feelings of impatience and irritability
- Inability to concentrate or feeling distant in social situations
- Difficulty sleeping or getting too much sleep
- Weight gain or loss
- Physical aches, pains, or headaches
- Inability to maintain interests in activities and hobbies that you used to enjoy
- Feeling selfish or guilty for prioritizing your needs.
Recognize the Importance of Community Support
If you've experienced any of the causes or warning signs listed above, then you are most likely in need of a change in your routine and workload. However, relying on your community, family, and friends for help is a crucial step in preserving your health. Here are some steps you can take to allow those around you to help:
1. Communicate Your Needs and Boundaries
- If you are an introvert, you may need time to yourself at the end of a long caregiving day. If you're an extrovert, then being surrounded by friends and family may be best for you. No matter what your needs are, be sure to communicate those to your friends and family, and do not feel the need to apologize.
- Learn to say no to requests and responsibilities that you can't handle or do not allow for balance in your schedule. This simple action will empower you to prioritize your health and introduce balance into your daily responsibilities.
2. Delegate Responsibilities
- If you have close family and friends, communicate that you need help and delegate caregiving responsibilities.
- If you are currently the sole caregiver, communicate your needs and ask those around to start helping. Do not be afraid to admit that you need help.
3. Get Support
If your family and friends are not providing the support you need, whether emotional support or assistance with responsibilities, consider turning to other resources.
- Join a Support Group: A support group with other family caregivers will provide you with a place to express your feelings, both negative and positive, in a space where others can relate, validate your emotions, and offer helpful resources and advice. This is also a great place to form friendships with like-minded individuals, and learn about caregiving resources.
- Hire Professional Caregiving Help: Hiring a professional caregiver can feel discouraging and a daunting choice. For many, the thought of an outsider caring for their loved one is overwhelming. However, many excellent home care aids can aid in your caregiving responsibilities.
You may also be able to enroll your loved ones in adult care centers so that they can attend programs and spend time in the community too. This may improve their mental health and allow them time to rest.
Take Care of Yourself First
1. Don't Put Off Your Health Needs: The first step in managing and bettering your health is to ensure you don't forget about your own needs. Caregivers who forget this important step are more likely to experience caregiver burnout and face their own health issues.
Prioritize these items in your day-to-day schedule to help take care of your health:
- Scheduling and attending doctor’s appointments when something isn’t right.
- Staying in bed to rest when you aren’t feeling well.
- Taking time to attend therapy or caregiver support groups to better your mental health.
2. Introduce Balance To Your Daily Responsibilities: Work-life balance, mainly when serving in the emotionally demanding role of caregiving for a family member. Here are some ways to maintain balance in your life.
- Set aside hours in your day to relax, spend time with family and friends, or take care of basic chores and responsibilities.
- Prioritize the most critical tasks, and say no to overwhelming responsibilities or will not fit in your schedule along with self-care.
- Look into respite care too give yourself a break from caring
3. Make Basic Self-Care A Habit: There are some simple items you can add to your daily routine to prioritize your health.
Remember to practice these self-care tips on a regular basis:
- Exercise: Go for a walk, do some yoga, practice tai chi, or find a quick workout online. Do something you enjoy to get your body moving for at least 10 minutes a day.
- Get enough sleep: The amount of sleep needed varies for each person but set a bedtime and wake-up time for each day that allows for 7-10 hours of sleep per night. A good night's sleep is important to taking care fo yourself.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet consistently: Try to plan out your meals at the beginning of the week to avoid missing meals or eating unhealthy snacks and meals when you're in a rush.
- Drink water: Purchase a reusable bottle to carry with you and set a goal to drink an adequate amount of water each day. A common rule of thumb is to drink half of your body weight in ounces. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, you would need to drink about 75 ounces of water each day.
- Meditate or listen to guided meditations to introduce mindfulness to your daily routine: Remember to take deep breaths throughout the day.
Effectively managing your health is crucial to serving as a successful caregiver to your loved one. Recognize warning signs, as well as feelings of guilt when putting your needs first. Then, use the actions and steps above to make changes to improve your over well-being while also being present for your loved one. This will make your role as a caregiver more sustainable and improve your quality of life.