9 ways to be a healthier caregiver
Caring for a loved one is stressful. These strategies can help you avoid burnout.
If you're caring for a family member with a serious illness, it's important to take steps to safeguard your own health as well. Attending to an ill family member's physical and mental needs can be overwhelming and the stress can take a toll on your body, your mood and your quality of life. This can aggravate existing medical conditions or may make you more susceptible to new health issues, from infections and headaches to depression and chronic disease.
Here are 9 strategies to help you reduce stress and maintain your health when you're taking care of someone else:
- Educate yourself. Research information about your family member's condition. It's helpful to know what to expect.
- Find sources of help. Contact family, friends, churches/synagogues and caregiver organizations. Identify resources early so you can more easily find help when needed.
- Carve out personal time. Find ways to make time just for you. Spend at least 15 minutes a day doing what makes you happy or relaxes you – read a book, write in a journal or just close your eyes.
- Exercise and eat well. Not only is regular exercise good for your health but it's a great stress-reliever and can also boost your energy level. A well-balanced diet will also help you stay energized and healthier.
- Prioritize tasks. When you're caregiving on top of your regular activities, it's hard to do everything. So prioritize the things that absolutely need to get done and cut yourself some slack on the rest.
- Keep things in perspective. Some days it may be hard to smile, let alone laugh, but laughter is good medicine. Try to find the humor in your day and be realistic about what you can and cannot control.
- Stay connected. Don't allow yourself to become isolated. Even if you can't get out of the house much, stay connected by phone, text or email. Better yet, make arrangements for someone to relieve you of your responsibilities on occasion so you can go out.
- Maintain your own health. Get yearly checkups and recommended screenings. You're no good to someone else if you're sick.
- Watch for signs of depression. If you experience symptoms such as increased crying, a change in sleep patterns or appetite, or a lack of interest in usual activities, talk to your doctor.