Caregivers are people of any age, gender, cultural background, economic level, and health status. The one thing that caregivers have in common is stress. Even in optimal situations, stress is part of almost every caregiver’s life.
Chronic stress impacts one’s body and immune system. If you are currently caring for a loved one you are probably experiencing some physical symptoms of caregiving. You may be losing or gaining weight, your body may have been injured by the rigors of caregiving, or you may have chronic pain. Headaches are also common. Most caregivers experience diminishing energy that may lead to complete exhaustion.
You have probably been told that unless you take good care of yourself, you will not be able give of yourself to others. But, do you take good care of yourself? Most caregivers don’t. They get so busy doing what has to be done that they often put their needs last on the list of priorities.
If you have been neglecting yourself, it would benefit both you and your loved one if you incorporate one or more of the following into your daily routine. These strategies are designed specifically for caregivers who have little time and low energy.
- Be Careful: When you are stressed, you are easily distracted and therefore more prone to accidents. Slowing down helps. If you find yourself moving at the speed of light to get everything done, stop, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that being in a frenzy can only slow you down in the long run. It’s particularly important that you are attentive when you are driving. It is equally important to use caution around the house, especially in the kitchen and bathroom. What you don’t need is to cut or burn yourself, or slip in the bathtub. Be mindful and take it slow.
- Get a Checkup: You are most likely more focused on your loved one’s health than your own. Stress takes a toll on your immune system so don’t ignore physical symptoms; get expert advice on your health. Prevention is your best friend. Be sure to get annual checkups and screenings to ensure that you are in optimal health. Along with visiting your health care provider, see your dentist and eye doctor on the schedule they suggest.
- Eat Healthy: Even if you are not hungry or don’t have time, healthy food provides much-needed energy. Keep healthy snacks handy. You might even ask a friend to help you monitor your diet by helping you prepare easy, healthy meals.
- Drink Water: You will feel better and your body will function better if you are well hydrated. The research is mixed about how much water to drink. Check with your health care provider to get an idea of how much water you should be drinking. Since you might not even realize you are thirsty, keep track of the amount your drink, until drinking the optimal amount becomes a habit.
- Exercise: Research has shown that one of the best ways to manage stress is aerobic exercise. Talk with your health care provider about what kind, and how often exercise is good for you. Then do it! While getting away and going to a gym might be best, a ten minute walk outside, some stretching to release muscle tension, or even a little chair dance (sitting in a chair and moving your feet in time to some bouncy music) will help.
- Rest: You must have sleep. Your caregiving duties may disrupt your sleep. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider if this is happening. Try a 15-minute power nap during the day to see if that helps you feel better.
- Find Some Comfort: Warm drinks such as herbal tea or warm milk are soothing. Discover your “comfort” foods and have them available for a treat.
- Relax: Listen to guided relaxation recordings. (You can find them at the library.) Locate someone to teach you relaxation exercises. (Your local hospital’s health education or wellness department may have this service.) Put on relaxing music when things get stressful or tense. Use a tabletop fountain to surround yourself with the relaxing sound of water.
- Get a Massage: Treat yourself to a full body massage by a massage therapist. If anyone asks you what you need, tell him or her, “A back rub!” Buy yourself some peppermint foot lotion and give yourself regular foot massages.
These are just a few ways you can take care of your body to reduce stress caused by caregiving. Don’t try to do all of them. It would be too stressful! Try to incorporate one or two at first and then slowly add more. Caregivers often feel that everything is out of their control. Taking care of yourself is in your control. You just have to do it.
© Copyright 2011 by Karen Rowinsky, LSCSW, therapist in Leawood, Kansas. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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