by June Duncan, Co-Founder, Rise Up For Caregivers
Being the caregiver to a senior loved one is demanding. Tending to the needs of an elderly person is mentally and physically stressful, and if you don’t take care of yourself, your own health can suffer.
If you are in the role of caregiver, you need to participate in a self-care routine or you may succumb to “caregiver stress.” The mortality rate of those experiencing caregiver stress is sixty-three percent higher than non-caregivers. According to AgingCare, symptoms of caregiver stress include:
- Depression; feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Anxiety; unease about facing the day and the future
- Withdrawal or isolation; not participating in activities you used to enjoy
- Inability to concentrate
- Changes in eating habits; gaining or losing substantial amounts of weight
- Inability to sleep; unable to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Exhaustion; never feeling rested
- Drinking or smoking more than you used to
- Health issues; getting sick more often than usual or being unable to recover from colds or the flu
There are many steps you can take toward improving your well-being and reducing caregiver stress. Some experts recommend taking care of your body to provide a foundation for improving your mental and physical health. The basics are a great start – eat a healthy diet, get sufficient sleep, and add some exercise to your routine. It’s also important to be realistic in your goals, and to not take on too much. Don’t run yourself ragged, and learn to say “no.” You can’t do everything, and you definitely can’t do everything perfectly.
It’s important for you to get some time to relax and regroup as part of your self-care plan. Even occasional, thirty-minute breaks can make a big difference in reducing your stress level. Take a nap, participate in a hobby, or enjoy playing with your dog. You might be surprised to find out that spending time with your dog boosts mental health. In fact, interacting with Fido can help ward off stress, depression and anxiety. Experts at Psychology Today suggest adding a walk to the time you spend with your dog. You’ll get some exercise, which also helps combat stress. Being in nature can help you refocus and feel refreshed, too.
Identify where you need assistance and reach out for help with your situation. If family members aren’t chipping in their fair share financially, talk with them. Similarly, they should contribute to your in-home care routine, meals, and taking your senior to appointments and on other outings. If friends and family can’t or won’t be able to assist with hands-on care, ask for help with errands, grocery shopping, and handling insurance claims, calls and paperwork. Also, most communities offer support services you can tap into. Check with your Area Agency on Aging for resources where you live.
The experts at Harvard Health Publishing note that even with assistance for caregiving, those in the role of providing long-term care need emotional support. You may feel a variety of difficult emotions as a caregiver, such as guilt, regret, inadequacy and resentment. Engage with a local or online support group so that you can connect with people who are dealing with similar issues. If sorting through your emotions is challenging, you may benefit from reaching out to a professional counselor, spiritual leader or therapist.
Don’t suffer with stress
The impact of stress on senior caregivers’ mental and physical health can be tremendous. Take steps to improve your quality of life with better self-care. Enjoy some downtime to refresh your mind and lower stress. Don’t try to get through things alone; reach out to family or your community. By taking good care of yourself, you can be a healthier and happier caregiver.
photo credit: Pixabay