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Caregivers: Take Care of Yourselves, Too

In today’s busy world, we’re all stretched thin by work, family, appointments and obligations. Add in the stress and responsibilities of caring for an aging parent or critically ill family member, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. That’s why it’s essential for caregivers to take the time to care for themselves, too.

Caregivers Play a Vital Role

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), 80 percent of adults requiring long-term medical attention still live at home, with unpaid family members or friends providing 90 percent of their care.

Most of these caregivers are women who on average will spend more than 20 hours a week helping with personal needs, making and feeding meals, administering medication and more. These added tasks not only impact your schedule, but your financial, physical and emotional well-being, too. And when the care is long-term, you can feel exhausted and burned out.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Any situation that expends energy and time can bring on stress responses such as fatigue, overeating, drinking and anxiety. But when dealing with caregiver overload, there are often additional reactions:

● Feeling increasingly resentful and impatient with the person for whom you are caring.

● Neglecting your own needs out of exhaustion or guilt.

● Having increased levels of exhaustion and insomnia, along with an inability to relax.

● Being more susceptible to other illnesses such as colds and the flu.

● Feeling depressed, hopeless and dissatisfied with your efforts.

Ways To Recharge Your Battery

Prioritizing self-care often leads to feelings of guilt or shame. But to continue providing the loving support your family member needs, it’s important to take time for your own physical and mental health, too.

Some tips include:

Give yourself a break. Whether this means lunch out with friends, joining an exercise class or setting aside a couple hours to work on a hobby, take some guilt-free time to reconnect to your life outside of caregiving. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) recommends taking 15-minute minibreaks during the day and offers up a fun list of suggestions here.

Stay on top of your own health. It’s easy to put off your own well-being when you’re focused on another person’s needs. Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and keep up with your physical health checks.

Acknowledge your emotions. Caregiving will elicit a variety of emotions. Rather than bottling them up, find healthy ways to express your thoughts. This could include reassurance from friends or a support group, writing in a journal or practicing mindful meditation. 

Ask for help. “Caregiver burnout” is the result of feeling overwhelmed and overburdened, so seek outside assistance when possible. Accept offers of help from friends and family. Consider putting together a caregiving team to assist with meals, housekeeping, communication to others, and even organizing medical bills and insurance.

Focus on the positive. Renewed mental energy can be as simple as shifting your center of attention. Celebrate the victories (no matter how small), focus on the things you can control and remind yourself of the importance of this new role. Even if you cannot receive affirmations from the person for whom you are caring, positive self-talk and gratitude go a long way in easing stress and uncertainty.

Finally, remember: You are not alone. Talk to your medical team for suggestions on support options, many of which may be covered by insurance. Seek out a community of other caregivers to share solutions and emotional comfort. Stay connected to family and friends. Together you can take good care of your loved one -- and yourself, too.


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