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Caregivers: Simple Tips to Take Care of You

January 10, 2023

A 2020 report shows that 53 million Americans provide unpaid caregiving support to adult family members. Many are experiencing burnout – which can present in physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Being a caregiver for a loved one can be a very gratifying experience, but at the same time, it’s normal to feel exhausted, lonely, sad, angry and overwhelmed.

Why Is Self-Care Important?

All too often, caregivers are so devoted to their loved ones that they set their own needs aside, an altruistic tendency that can have harmful consequences. Caregivers are more at risk for several physical and mental health concerns:

Anxiety: While it’s normal to worry about your loved one, when the worry begins to affect other areas of your life, you could be experiencing anxiety. Feelings of anxiety are often even more profound when caring for someone with dementia, as the individual’s behavior can be unpredictable.

Stress: Consistently elevated stress hormone levels can put caregivers at risk for high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a suppressed immune system. Research has shown that caregivers have 25% higher stress hormone levels and 15% lower levels of antibody response than non-caregivers.

Poor Sleep: Caregivers often do not get enough sleep, a habit that further contributes to high stress, anxiety, depression, lower immune response, and poorer heart health.

Simple Steps to Self-Care

The adverse risks involved in being a caregiver highlight the importance of practicing self-care—and there are many ways to do this.

  1. Eat well and exercise: While it sounds cliché, proper nutrition and daily movement do wonders for overall health and mood. Eating a balanced diet and regular exercise will help you sleep better, give you energy, and decrease stress. Start small and gradually create sustainable habits. Always consult your doctor first.
  2. Set limits and accept help: Setting boundaries is one of the healthiest things anyone can do for themselves, and caregivers are no exception. Do you need thirty minutes in the morning to enjoy your coffee? You may feel capable of handling your caregiving responsibilities all week but come Saturday; you need a break. Know where you need to draw the line for your health and well-being—and know that you’ll be an even better caregiver. Respite care is also a great option to consider.
  3. Focus on what you can control:As a caregiver, it can seem like the odds are stacked against you in terms of what is within your control—and that’s often true! However, when you can let go of what’s out of your control and instead focus on what is within it, you’ll likely find you can bring some predictability and even joy to your days. This might look like knowing—and accepting—that you can offer your loved one a healthy, balanced breakfast, but you cannot control whether they choose to eat it.
  4. Connect with others: We are naturally social creatures, yet being in the trenches of caregiving can be incredibly isolating and lonely. Find a way to stay connected to others, be it a friend, a neighbor, or better yet—a caregiving support group. Studies have shown that participation in Alzheimer’s disease support groups is linked with improved caregiver quality of life, decreased clinical depression, and even lower rates of nursing home placement for the person receiving care.

The Hickman hosts an In-Person Dementia Caregiver Support Group on the first Tuesday of every month from 5:00 pm to 5:45 pm at the West Chester Friends School, presented by the Alzheimer’s – Delaware Valley. Check Facebook for details.