Health and Well-Being of a Caregiver
Researchers know a lot about the effects of caregiving on health and well-being. For example, if you are a caregiving spouse between the ages of 66 and 96 and are experiencing mental or emotional strain, you have a risk of dying earlier than people your age who are not caregivers. The combination of loss, prolonged stress, and the physical demands of caregiving that come with age place you at risk for significant health problems as well as an earlier death.
It is not just older caregivers who put their health and well-being at risk. If you are a baby boomer who has assumed a caretaker role for your parents while simultaneously juggling work and raising children, you face an increased risk for depression, chronic illness and a possible decline in quality of life.
While most caregivers know these risks, they are less likely to practice preventive healthcare and self-care behavior. Regardless of age, sex, and race and ethnicity, caregivers report problems attending to their health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities. They report:
- sleep deprivation
- failure to stay in bed when ill
- lack of personal time
- poor eating habits
- lack of exercise
- inability to make medical appointments for themselves
Family caregivers are also at increased risk for depression and excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. On the one hand, caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience. On the other hand, exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources and constant care demands are enormously stressful. Studies have found caregivers are more likely to have a chronic illness, namely high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a tendency to be overweight
Identifying Personal Barriers
Many times, attitudes and beliefs form personal obstacles that stand in the way of caring for yourself. Not taking care of yourself may be a lifelong pattern, and taking care of others turns out to be an easier option. However, as a family caregiver, you must ask yourself, “What good will I be to the person I care for if I become ill? If I die?” Breaking old patterns and overcoming obstacles is not an easy proposition, but it can be done – regardless of your age or situation. The first task in removing personal barriers to self-care is to identify what is in your way. Here are some examples of questions to ask yourself:
- Do you think you are selfish if you put your needs first?
- Is it frightening to think of your needs? What if the fear about?
- Do you have trouble asking for what you need? Do you feel inadequate if you ask for help?
- Do you feel you have to prove that you are worthy of the care recipient’s affection? Do you do much more than you can handle as a result?
Sometimes caregivers have misconceptions that increase their stress and get in the way of good self-care. Here are some of the most commonly expressed:
- I am responsible for my parent’s health.
- If I don’t do it, no one will.
- If I do it right, I will get the love, attention, and respect I deserve.
- Our family always takes care of their own.
- I promised my father I would always take care of my mother.
“I never do anything right,” or “There’s no way I could find the time to exercise” are examples of negative self-talk, another possible barrier that can cause unnecessary anxiety. Instead, try positive statements: “I’ good at giving John a bath.: “I can exercise for 15 minutes a day.” Remember, your mind believes what you tell it. Because we base our behavior on our thoughts and beliefs, attitudes and misconceptions like those noted above can cause caregivers to continually attempt to do what cannot be done, to control what cannot be controlled. The result is feelings of continued failure and frustration, which lead to the inability to take care of yourself first. Ask yourself what might be getting in your way.
Once you’ve started to identify any personal barriers to good self-care, you can begin to change your behavior, moving forward one small step at a time. Here are some useful tools for self-care that can start you on your way:
Reducing Personal Stress
How we perceive and respond to an event is a significant factor in how we adjust and cope with it. The pressure you feel is not only the result of your caregiving situation but also the result of your perception of it. It is important to remember that you are not alone in your experiences.
Setting goals or deciding what you would like to accomplish in the next three to six months is an important tool for taking care of yourself. Here are some sample goals you might set:
- Take a break from caregiving.
- Get help with caregiving tasks like bathing and preparing meals.
- Engage in activities that will make you feel more healthy.
Finding solutions to difficult situations is one of the most valuable tools. Once you’ve identified a problem, taking action to solve it can change the situation and also change your attitude to a more positive one, giving you more confidence in your abilities.
When you communicate in ways that are clear, assertive and constructive, you will be heard and get the help and support you need.
Asking for and Accepting Help
Many caregivers don’t know how to marshal the goodwill of others and are reluctant to ask for help. You may not wish to “burden” others or admit that you can’t handle everything yourself.
Talking to the Physician
In addition to taking on the household chores, shopping, transportation, and personal care, a little over a quarter of caregivers also administer medications, injections, and medical treatment to the person for whom they care. And a significant portion of those caregivers reports the need to ask for advice about the medications and medical treatments. Turn to your physician for any help.
Starting to Exercise
You may be reluctant to start exercising, even though you’ve heard it’s one of the healthiest things you can do. Perhaps you think that physical activity might harm you or that it is only for people who are young and able to do things like jogging. Although, in reality, you can maintain or at least partly restore endurance, balance, strength and flexibility through everyday physical activities like walking and gardening. Even household chores can improve your health. The key is to increase your physical activity by exercising and using your muscle power.
Learning from Our Emotions
It is a strength to recognize when your emotions are controlling you (instead of you controlling your emotions). Our emotions are messages to which we need to listen. They exist for a reason. However negative or painful, our feelings are useful tools for understanding what is happening to us.