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Caregivers: Are You Caring for YOU?

Being a family caregiver isn't like other jobs. For one, your day doesn't stop at 5 p.m. — or ever. Putting all your energy into another person's care also drains you and stresses you out, as few other jobs can. As much as you love your family member, you need to take time away from your caregiving duties for your own health.

Recognizing the Signs of Caregiver Stress

Caregivers who don't make time for self-care are at risk of developing caregiver stress. The term "caregiver stress" doesn't sound all that serious, but its symptoms do — because they are. They include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Trouble focusing
  • Resentment
  • Neglect of self or patient

Getting Help With Caregiving

young caregiver handing water to older woman in bedCaregiver stress hurts your health and the health of your family member, so you need to address it. Sometimes, that means reducing your caregiving responsibilities, so you don't burn out entirely. Ask family for help, use respite care or adult day care services, or hire in-home help for your loved one. In certain cases, seniors can get help paying for home care through Medicare, Medicaid, or veterans benefits. Learn more about your options at Senior Living. You can also explore Cantissimo Senior Living's housing resources for more comprehensive options as the need arises.

Self-Care Strategies for Caregivers

Self-care is a vital component of any caregiver's stress-management plan. Self-care for caregivers should focus on relieving the mental and emotional stress of caregiving, as well as managing its physical demands.

  • Exercise regularly. You might not have time for your old gym routine, but you can find time for a 15-20 minute walk in the mornings and evenings and quick at-home workouts. Exercise helps you cope with both the emotional and physical stresses of caregiving. Still, motivation can be hard to come by. Help cultivate a healthy fitness habit by choosing physical pursuits that you love and enjoy, as well as allowing yourself reasonable treats. For instance, you can shop for luxurious activewear from Lululemon to keep you more comfortable during workouts, but do take time to look for opportunities to save, like special promotions.
  • Stretch your body. Caregiving is a surprisingly physical job, especially if your family member needs a lot of assistance. Regular stretching protects against injury, and it's also a great way to get quick stress relief.
  • Make time for sleep. Sleep is particularly challenging if you're caring for someone with dementia. Take steps to prevent wandering to ease your mind at night. If it's something else keeping you up, try the sleep tips at Caregivers.com. It's important to address any sleep challenges you might have. Not only will lack of sleep affect your abilities as a caregiver, but it can also result in a host of health issues, like migraines.
  • Stay in touch with friends. Caregiving is an isolating experience. Not only do you lack the free time you once enjoyed, but most friends and family won't relate to your experiences as a caregiver. Nonetheless, staying social is essential to your well-being — and it's nice to have something other than caregiving to think about once in a while.
  • Keep your space organized. You have a lot on your plate as a caregiver. An organized caregiving environment lets you manage your family member's medications, doctor's appointments, and necessary paperwork, so you don't lose track and end up frustrated.
  • Know when to take a breather... It's easy for caregiving to devolve into bickering when your family member isn't ready to relinquish independence. First, check with a doctor to ensure your loved one's negativity isn't caused by something more serious. If you have to live with it, practice coping mechanisms like stepping away and taking deep breaths before responding. You should also consider hiring a caregiver. Some seniors behave better when it's not a family member providing care.
  • … And when to take a whole day off. Working 24/7 isn't feasible for anyone. Schedule days off into your calendar, and make arrangements for respite care in advance. If you've already booked the help, you're less likely to cancel at the last minute.
Don't feel guilty because you're taking time away from your family member for self-care. When you don't put energy into yourself, you don't have the energy and compassion to give to someone else. By making time for you, you'll become a better caregiver and protect your health for the future.

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About the Author: Claire Wentz

Claire Wentz created Caring From Afar to offer support and advice to caregivers who are unable to live near their loved ones. Her hope is that her writing will inform them, uplift them, and give them peace of mind when they need it.

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