While caring for a friend or family member who needs long-term help can be rewarding, it can also be overwhelming. However, it’s important to know you are not alone. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, nearly 44 million people in the U.S. provide care for a friend or family member who is chronically ill, disabled or elderly.
It’s also important to remember that caring for a loved one can take a lot of time and energy, which means it’s critical that you take good care of yourself. Many caregivers are so busy doing what has to be done for their loved one that they often put their own needs last on the list of priorities and don’t make time for themselves. Taking care of yourself is crucial in order to maintain balance and stay healthy, which will help you provide the care your loved one needs. If you or someone you know is currently providing care for a friend of family member, here are a few practical tips to keep in mind:
Build a support team –You can’t do it alone, so take some time to build your support team. This should include your loved one’s doctor, family members, friends, church or community organizations, and anyone else you can turn to in a time of stress. Don’t be afraid to meet with your family to ask them to share in the day-to-day responsibilities and/or the cost of care.
Connect with other caregivers – Check out online caregiving forums, websites and support groups to find others who truly understand the ups and downs of caregiving and can offer encouragement.
Get a checkup – You most likely are much more focused on your loved one’s health than your own. But stress takes a toll on your immune system, so don’t ignore your own health. Be sure to make and keep appointments for your annual checkups and screenings, and don’t hesitate to visit your doctor if you’re starting to feel under the weather.
Healthy eating – Even if you don’t feel hungry or think you don’t have time to eat, try not to skip meals. Healthy food can help give you the energy you need during busy days. Keep healthy snacks like fresh fruits and vegetables available. Also, consider asking a friend or family member to help you prepare healthy meals when you don’t have a lot of spare time to cook.
Fit in a workout – Research has shown that one of the best ways to manage stress is through exercise. Take some time out of your day and go for a 10-minute walk to clear your mind, fight stress and maintain good cardiovascular health. You can also try some stretching exercises to release muscle tension.
Call it a night – It’s important for you to get enough sleep so that you can be alert and awake to keep up with caregiving duties. If your caregiving responsibilities tend to interrupt your sleep, try taking a 15-minute power nap during the day.
Take a breath – Consider meditating, listening to guided relaxation recordings, or putting on relaxing music when things get stressful or tense.
Take a time-out – Take a little time for you– treat yourself to a stress-reducing massage or dinner out with a friend or family member. It can help you recharge and relieve tension.
Get help when you need it – Figure out what you can reasonably do and what resources or help from others you may need. Luckily, there are many resources available to help caregivers. Consider reaching out to the following organizations for assistance:
- If you are a Health Advocate member, call your Personal Health Advocate, who can help in a variety of ways. First, your Personal Health Advocate can find a local, in-network primary care physician or other medical provider for you so that you can stay on top of your screenings and checkups. If you have access to our EAP+Work/Life program, a specialist can also help you locate a counselor who can address concerns like stress and anxiety, as well as help you locate caregiving help, support groups and other resources in your area.
- The National Family Caregivers Association is a nationwide service that helps older adults and their caregivers find local services for seniors. To get started, visit thefamilycaregiver.org.
- The Meals on Wheels Association of America is the oldest and largest national organization composed of and representing local, community-based senior nutrition programs in all 50 U.S. states, as well as the U.S. Territories. There are Meals on Wheels chapters nationwide that can deliver meals to seniors who are confined to their homes. To find a chapter near you, visit mowaa.org.
Taking a little time for yourself can help you be a better caregiver.