According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, nearly 66 million Americans serve as family caregivers for an ill or disabled relative. On average, family caregivers provide 39.2 hours of care a week, which is roughly the equivalent of a full-time job.
It’s rewarding work, undertaken with love. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy—and it doesn’t mean caregivers don’t deserve and need a break.
In honor of National Caregivers Day (Feb. 15), we want to say to all the family caregivers out there: your work is necessary, and it is deeply appreciated. And please, please give yourself a break!
Caregiver stress is a condition that results from the physical and emotional stress of caring for another. It is associated with depression and anxiety, with 40 to 70% of caregivers reporting symptoms of depression. It can also contribute to conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease—and it’s not hard to see why: focusing on caring for another can lead to ignoring one’s own health needs. It’s not unusual for caregivers to skip doctors’ appointments, eat poorly, or put off exercise.
But caregivers need care too! You need to stay upbeat and healthy for your own sake, as well as for the sake of the love one you’re caring for.
- Focus on getting a good night’s sleep (seven to eight hours). This refreshes your mind and body, and allows you to have the energy you’ll need to get through the day.
- Eat well balanced meals.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Make time for daily exercise. If you’re able to get outside for this (for instance, taking a couple of brief walks outdoors), you’ll find that you get an emotional boost and that the fresh air invigorates you.
- Don’t neglect your own medical appointments.
- Caregiving can bring with it a heavy emotional burden. Consider seeing a therapist or counselor, or joining a support group, to help yourself manage these complex emotions.
- Take time for activities you enjoy! Do not allow your friendships and other relationships to deteriorate: your network of supportive relationships is more important than ever. Consider a relaxing activity you could add to your schedule—yoga, massage appointments, prayer, or private reading. Is there a hobby you have allowed to fall by the wayside? Resume that sport, pick up that paintbrush again, or dust off that stamp collection.
Caring for yourself is not selfish: it makes you stronger, happier, and more able to care well for your loved one. And there’s no better day to start than National Caregivers Day!
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