Many people have high hopes for themselves at the start of a new year. For caregivers, however, their own needs may take a distant second to the needs of others. One of the best resolutions you can make this year as a caregiver is to commit to putting your own health and wellness first. Here’s a closer look at the issue of caregiver health, along with tips for ending the year happier and healthier than when it started.
Acknowledging the Perils of Family Caregiving
While caring for a sick or aging loved one is a noble pursuit, it’s not without its share of downsides. Topping the list for many caregivers? Stress and strain that threatens their own physical and mental well-being.
Proposes research published in the American Journal of Nursing, “Caregiving has all the features of a chronic stress experience: It creates physical and psychological strain over extended periods of time, is accompanied by high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability, has the capacity to create secondary stress in multiple life domains such as work and family relationships, and frequently requires high levels of vigilance. Caregiving fits the formula for chronic stress so well that it is used as a model for studying the health effects of chronic stress.”
Research further indicates that certain caregivers are more vulnerable to the detrimental effects of caregiving than others, including older caregivers, poorer caregivers, and caregivers with limited support networks. Furthermore, caring for someone with dementia has been linked with more negative caregiver outcomes than caring for someone with physical disabilities alone.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t upsides associated with caregiving as well. Caregivers may feel better about themselves, develop new skills, and enjoy stronger family relationships as a result of their caregiving duties. At the same time, attention to the potential negative effects of caregiver stress—including everything from diabetes to depression—can help offset their impact.
Actionable Ways to Commit to Your Health
While you may feel like you barely have time to catch your own breath, there’s no more pressing need for many caregivers than to step back and take stock—beginning with your own physical and mental health.
For starters, when was the last time you had a physical? Scheduling an appointment with your doctor is the first step toward taking control of your health and wellness. This can also help you set goals. Whether you aim to lose weight or lower your cholesterol, your doctor can help you determine realistic goals and solutions.
When it comes to safeguarding your mental health, meanwhile, both formal and informal measures can help. A therapist can help you learn coping tools while spending time with family and friends, pursuing your own hobbies and interests, and taking “me time”—whether that means going for a walk or spending 15 minutes reading a book—all of which offer stress relief.
And while attending to factors like your own diet, exercise and sleep may seem secondary to the more immediate needs of an ailing loved one; they’re critical for sustaining yourself. Which brings us to one more reason to make self-care your resolution for the year ahead: Doing so may ultimately lead to better care for your loved one. After all, caregiving is a challenge, and being in good health is the best way to make sure you’re up for it.
mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care, including everything from being employed while caring for a loved one to finding your voice as a caregiver. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. For more free caregiver training, access our database of free online caregiver videos today.