It's often a privilege to care for someone you love. Unfortunately, the challenges of being a primary caregiver can be emotionally taxing. You may feel uncomfortable asking for help. Or you may have to deal with complicated family dynamics surrounding caregiving decisions. Not to mention financial challenges that may accompany the responsibilities of caregiving.
Well, you're not alone. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, about 44 million people in the United States are unpaid caregivers. So, in recognition of National Caregivers Day, on Feb. 17, we're sharing our best tips on coping with the emotional challenges of being a caregiver.
We want you to remain healthy throughout your caregiving journey, and the following nine tips will help you do just that!
Get Regular Exercise
It's no great secret that regular exercise has tremendous benefits. As a caregiver, being physically active will help you manage your weight, reduce disease risk, and strengthen your muscles and bones while improving cognitive function. The key to an effective exercise routine is finding an activity you enjoy and that fits your schedule.
Spend Time in Nature
One way to stay physically active is by spending time in nature. Weather and time permitting, you can try walking in the park, hiking, or biking. Studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) show that spending time in nature helps lower heart disease risk, combat depression, and improve sleep.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Like regular exercise, nutritious food strengthens the body and mind. Eat balanced meals, which include plenty of fruits and veggies, and swap fatty foods with leaner options.
Hydrating is also important. Staying hydrated will help relieve fatigue, control hunger, and maintain cognitive function.
Get Your Sleep
In addition to a nutritious diet and regular exercise, prioritizing sleep will help you function better during the day. But as a caregiver, this may be easier said than done. After all, about 50 to 70 million people living in the U.S. have trouble getting enough sleep, per the NIH.
If sleep is hard to come by, try adopting relaxation techniques in addition to a healthy diet and workout routine. Additionally, you can consult with your doctor on ways to help improve your sleep.
Devote Time Each Day to Relaxation
As a caregiver, carving out time for relaxation is an absolute must.
Do you have a go-to hobby? If not, consider reading, gardening, painting, cooking, learning to play an instrument, doing yoga, hiking, or biking. These are just a few relaxing activities that can greatly reduce stress.
Seek Community with Others
Being a caregiver can sometimes result in unwittingly neglecting the companionship of others.
"Maintaining relationships with others creates a support system that lifts you up," says Tina O'Neill, Personal Care Social Worker at Lafayette, a Redeemer Health senior living community.
Avoid the company of energy vampires or negative people who can emotionally drain you. Joining a caregiving support group can be a great gift as you can share fellowship with others who experience the challenges of being a caregiver.
"Knowing that you're not alone in how you're feeling is just such a relief to most people," says Tina. "If you're really feeling at the end of your rope, meeting people in the same situation through a support group, whether formal or informal, is really important."
You can find support groups by contacting the Alzheimer's Association. Senior community centers and local houses of worship are also good ways to connect with sources that provide support groups for caregivers.
Keep a Journal
Penning a journal can be especially beneficial. You can actively work through challenging emotions while acknowledging and celebrating the golden moments.
"Journaling is also really good because it gives you a chance to put on paper what you might be afraid to say to or about somebody," says Tina.
Plan for the Future
O'Neil suggests planning for the future as far in advance as possible by setting up a living will and having a power of attorney in place. Being properly prepared will ease stress for caregivers, especially in an emergency.
Don't Be So Hard on Yourself
Like many caregivers, you may feel you must do everything yourself – and perfectly. This perfectionist mindset may lead to guilt or frustration when an inevitable mishap occurs. So the best thing you can do is forgive yourself. After all, you're human, and nobody's perfect. Most importantly, you're doing the best you can.
Also, remember that it's always ok to ask for help. Having a healthy support system, be it a support group, friends, or family, can do wonders to alleviate the stress of caregiving.
Help for When You Need a Little More Endurance
Redeemer Health welcomes caregivers to learn about the many services we offer that help soothe the challenges of caregiving.
From short-term recovery to comfort during advanced illness, Redeemer Health Home Care provides compassionate care for patients and their families throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Moreover, our Support at Home services just received the distinguished 2023 Best of Home Care - Leader in Experience Award from HCP, the leading firm in experience management for home care.
And, if caregivers should need to be out of town for a few nights, or are planning a well-deserved vacation, the respite care program at our senior living communities provides short-stay lodging and care to those who need assistance with everyday tasks. More information about respite care is available by calling 215-214-2877.
To every caregiver—thank you for all you do. On National Caregivers Day—and every day—we honor and acknowledge the loving and selfless care you provide.
TOPICS IN THIS ARTICLE
Home Care and Hospice