When you’re a caregiver, chances are you’re juggling many roles — and life can get a little hectic. Your week may look something like this:
- Monday: Post-op follow-up appointment for your husband’s knee surgery before work
- Tuesday: Your daughter’s scoliosis check-up after work
- Wednesday: Your son’s orthodontist appointment during your lunch break
- Thursday: Help your mom clean the house after work — she’s still recovering from her hip replacement
- Friday: Try to get to the grocery store after work before your family completely runs out of food in the house
- Saturday and Sunday: Work on the client presentation that needs to be ready by Monday morning, do the laundry, mow the lawn — and get ready to do it all again next week
There’s one major thing missing from the agenda: time for yourself.
When your whole schedule revolves around others, you may not have time to exercise, see your friends, watch TV, or relax. You might feel isolated from your friends and overwhelmed by the amount of care you have to provide to others. In other words? You’re completely stressed.
Over time, prolonged caregiver stress can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
- Not getting enough sleep or feeling so tired that you can’t get out of bed
- Losing or gaining a significant amount of weight for no known reason
- Feeling easily irritated or angry
- Experiencing unexplained headaches or other body pains
- Feeling as if you have been deserted by others
Signs You’re Suffering from Caregiver Stress
Making time for yourself and your health is critical — and it’s also more doable than you may think. Here are 4 ways you can make time for your own health.
1. Make Exercise Fun — and Not Too Time-Consuming
Physical activity can help you reduce fatigue and stress, and get better sleep. But spending an hour a day at the gym may not be realistic when you’re caring for family members. Even the process of changing into workout clothes and traveling to the gym can be too time-consuming. And that’s one reason why many caregivers give up on exercise.
However, increasing your physical activity doesn’t need to be a huge project — you don’t need to trek to the gym or spend an hour sweating on the treadmill. You can get your heart rate going with less intense activities, such as:
- Taking a brisk walk
- Biking (slower than 10 miles per hour)
Also, you don’t need to do it all at once or schedule a full hour out of your day. Break it up into multiple short sessions. For example, take three 10-minute walks throughout the day instead of a 30-minute one.
Even 10-minute workout breaks can sometimes seem like a challenge or be easy to forget. Put the workouts in your calendar — once they’re written out in front of you, you may be more likely to stick to them. You can also try developing regular routines for everyone in your family. When everyone is on a predictable schedule, it’s easier to find time to take a break.
If you’re not a huge fan of physical activity, get your friends and family involved. Invite friends over for yoga or to hang out while you garden so you can catch up and socialize, all while being physically active. Have your family join you for walks so they can benefit from exercise, too — and so you can get in some family bonding time that doesn’t revolve around caregiving.
2. Connect With Support Resources
No matter how strong you are, you may need some additional support — and that is completely normal.
Support groups are a safe place for you to talk with others who are also caregivers and have gone through (or are going through) similar journeys. They can give you advice on how to cope, help you prepare for what may lie ahead, and brainstorm ways to stay healthy.
This knowledge and social support can give you strength and empower you to care for yourself and for your loved ones. It also gives you an opportunity to make new friends and have a place to release stress.
Normally you can find support groups through:
- Hospital social workers
- Adult day care centers
- Your faith community
- National non-profit organizations for specific diseases, such as the Alzheimer’s Association
Stormont Vail Health can provide support to your health needs through the wellpower program. You will learn how to stay active, eat well, maintain a healthy weight, and take care of your mental health. You also have access to spiritual care that is open to people of all faiths and backgrounds.
3. See Your Primary Care Provider Regularly
You may be diligently keeping up with your family’s appointments, but never remember to book one for yourself.
This is how caregivers become “hidden patients.” It is not uncommon for caregivers to end up in the hospital facing more health issues than the person they were caring for in the first place. You could have no time to prepare healthy meals for yourself and just grab fast food — usually high in calories and sodium — on the run. Over time, this can put you at high risk for obesity, diabetes, or heart disease.
Since caregivers are at higher risk for certain health issues, make sure to tell your primary care provider or nurse you are a caregiver. They can pay extra attention to symptoms of common health problems among caregivers, such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
- Muscle or joint pain
Your primary care provider can help you prevent these health issues. They can recommend screening tests, vaccinations, and provide general health advice unique to you based on your age, sex, and family history.
4. Consider Respite Care
It’s okay to admit you can’t handle everything by yourself. Once you’ve acknowledged this, don’t be afraid to bring in outside help.
If your friends or other family members are not available, respite care can provide a short-term solution. Respite care is a service where a professional caregiver comes in to take over your caregiving responsibilities for the sick family member.
You can hire a caregiver for a few hours, days, or weeks to give yourself some time to recharge and focus on yourself. Remember that the respite worker is there to provide care for the person you’re caring for –– that means they are not a caregiver for the caregiver.
Insurance plans typically don’t cover respite care, so you may be responsible for the full cost out of pocket. However, some plans do cover it, so double-check with your insurance policy before arranging respite care.
If you’re not sure where to start your search for a respite care provider, reach out to your loved one’s medical care team. If you are receiving care at Stormont Vail, talk to your nurse or social worker for more information.
You may feel as if being a caregiver means putting your own needs last. But the truth is that you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first. Giving yourself a break and caring for your own health doesn’t make you a selfish person — it makes you a better caregiver.