Caring For Yourself As A New Caregiver

Check out this month's special feature from our guest blogger, Harry Cline, creator of New Caregiver...

Caregivers frequently neglect their own health, resulting in a sobering statistic: 30 percent of caregivers die before the person they’re looking after.

As a caregiver, the care you provide to yourself is just as important as the care you will be providing to your loved one. The majority of caregiving is performed by loved ones and family members, and it can be exhausting and time-consuming work, often performed without a great deal of medical education or much in the way of support resources.  This is just one reason why it’s so important to practice good self-care. If something happens to you, who will take over your responsibilities? In order to take care of other people, we have to first take care of ourselves. 


Maintain Your Good Health    

Caregivers tend to postpone their own doctor visits, resulting in fewer and delayed check-up appointments. They may skimp on their own medications, or take them at irregular times. All this adds up to worsened health outcomes, and dangerous delays in diagnoses. They have higher rates of depression and mental illness than the general population.

There are steps you can take to improve your physical and mental well-being while caregiving:

  • Make it a point to eat regular meals, focusing on getting proper nutrition and avoiding empty calories.
  • Get eight hours of sleep each night. Studies show sleep deprivation depresses the immune system, impairs cognitive function, and increases the risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
  • Get regular exercise several times a week. There is good evidence that a strong exercise regimen prolongs lifespan, and improves immune response and healing times. It may even reduce the risk of certain cancers, and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
  • Try to get in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day for the maximum health benefits. 
     

Lower Your Stress Level

Caregiving is stressful and emotionally draining, so you need to do everything you can to keep your spirits up.

  • Learn techniques for de-stressing, such as meditation, positive visualization, and self-massage.
  • Engage in a relaxing hobby, such as knitting, crochet, or crafting, to help get your mind off of your worries. Enroll in a yoga or Spin class.
  • At least once a week, meet with a friend to talk about something besides your loved one’s medical situation.
  • Treat yourself to bubble baths, dinners out with friends, and other activities that help you to refresh your energy levels.
  • Research shows that immersing yourself in natural green space elevates mood, decreases stress hormones, and improves immune response, so go for a walk in the woods, or at least purchase a few houseplants for your environment. 
     

Choose Healthy Pick-Me-Ups

Be leery of using caffeine to maintain alertness, or wine to bring on relaxation.

Everyone has their go-to feel-good item, but we often rely on unhealthy crutches for our emotional boost. Self-medicating with addictive substances will only hurt you in the long run, and could even lead to dangerous conditions like alcoholism.

If you’re feeling run down, reach for a banana or a handful of nuts. Potassium and protein are great energy boosters. If you need to unwind, go for a mug of warm milk, or engage in a stress-reducing activity, such as journaling. 


Learn To Manage Your Time

Recognize that you are human, you have limits, and there are only so many hours in the day.

One of the biggest sources of stress in anyone’s life is time management. It’s common to over-schedule your day and think you’ll make it up by cutting corners on sleep time or meals. It’s okay to say no, and people will understand that your caregiving responsibilities consume a great deal of your time. It’s also pretty common for people to think they can manage all their responsibilities alone, but that’s seldom practical.

Learn to ask for help and to accept it graciously when it is offered. No one is implying you’re not up to your tasks; they only want to lighten your load. And make sure you’re scheduling enough “me” time in each day. You need time to sleep, eat, exercise, and rejuvenate yourself. Don’t shortchange yourself. 

Good self-care practices help you to maintain your physical and emotional energy levels, and give you the strength you need to handle the rigors of everyday caregiving. You must learn to prioritize your own well-being so that you can give back to other people. 


About the Author:
Harry Cline is creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book,The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.