Caregivers: How to Maintain your Health Despite this Taxing Job

Smiling senior man holding cane and sitting with grandaughter

 

Being a caregiver has its rewards, but it can certainly take its toll on someone’s body and mind.   Between the mental and physical strains, caregivers report such issues as insomnia, poor eating habits, a failure to take care of their own physical health whether that means not getting enough regular exercise or not taking rest when they’re ill, and increased periods of anxiety, depression (studies show an estimated 45 to 60 percent of caregivers suffer from depression), and periods of erratic mood swings.  There is also an increased risk of high cholesterol, blood pressure, and obesity.  This is true for caregivers across the board, regardless of sex, race, and age.

The flip side:

That’s a rather grim outlook, but it’s not the whole story.  When caregivers are conscious of their own limitations, realistic about what they can accomplish and that they must also allocate time for their own well being, care giving can be a wonderful experience.  The majority of care givers look back on their time as well spent and they appreciate that they were able to dedicate part of themselves to an aging or ailing loved one.  There are moments of pure pleasure and many moments that will be remembered fondly and shared with other family members.  Knowing that you’ve made a positive impact in someone’s life can be one of the most gratifying experiences that you’ll ever know.

Some great guidelines for caregivers:

Maintain a positive outlook.

Prepare yourself for how much time care giving can actually take in a day, and how much energy you can expend during that time.  Keep in mind that this is a wonderful opportunity for developing a better bond with the person that you care for, and try to see the humour in every situation.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Caregiving is a lot of work, and sometimes you’ll need help.  People will likely offer to help, but they may not be specific or step up to the plate unless you ask.  Be specific in your requests, and let potential and willing helpers know exactly when and how they can lend a hand.  You get the help you will at times very much need, and others have the opportunity to feel good about supporting you in your care giving venture.

You have limits; be aware of them.

Everyone has their limit, and we’re all different.  As a caregiver, it’s very important to recognize the signs that you’ve reached yours and have a plan in place to help you manage your stress levels.

Saying no is ok.

Just because you’re a caregiver doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make your own plans.  When a request conflicts with something on your schedule that you feel takes priority, stick to your guns.  When you’re overwhelmed with the to-do list, it’s ok to say no to extra tasks or even to some of the things on the list.  It’s also ok to say no when you simply choose not to take on extra work.

Set up and maintain a line of support.

There are very likely others in your community who are in the same boat.  Talking to others who share your experiences and feeling can be a great weight off your shoulders.  There are support groups for a variety of people and issue, so seek one that fits your schedule and your particular needs.  If you can’t seem to locate one in your community or within a reasonable distance, check out online support groups.  Taking training may also support your emotional and physical well being and give you the knowledge you’ll need to deal with difficulties down the road.

 Communication is key.

Family members and friends can be great assets when the lines of communication are left open and everyone is respectful.  These relationships can be the difference between being completely lost in your caregiver position, and being supported well enough that you see the silver lining and positive aspects in your role.

Take time for you – each and every day!

Taking time for you will actually make you a far better caregiver than if you chose to put yourself constantly in the back seat.  You must eat well, get some exercise, keep your appointments; especially medical appointments, and spend some time devoted to your hobbies and other things that you love.

Taking care of yourself can mean less resentment and a more positive attitude when dealing with the less pleasant aspects of your role.  Make sure that as a caregiver you look after the needs and wants of the most important person in your life; you.

Thank you to Nina Wells who wrote this article. Nina is a guest author from Clearwells and is a respected and expert voice in a plethora of health related subjects with over 10 years of writing under her belt.

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