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Self-Care for Caregivers

Self-Care for Caregivers

November is National Family Caregivers Month, and the perfect time for a reminder to make yourself a priority when tending to the needs of loved ones

If you’re caring for a loved one who is disabled, elderly or has a chronic health problem, you aren’t alone. Yet sometimes, it feels that way.

Sixty-five million Americans are caregivers for a friend or relative, providing much-needed help while holding down a job, raising children or grandchildren, and maintaining a marriage and a home, according to an eye-openingNational Alliance for Caregiving survey. Two-thirds are women. The experience can be stressful, exhausting and joyful. Caregiving can raise your risk for anxiety, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, heart attack, high blood pressure, and obesity, research warns. The other side of the coin: It can also help you live longer by giving you a sense of purpose and connection.

These steps can help you keep yourself healthy as you tend to the needs of others:

Don’t go it alone. Caregivers who take breaks have better physical and mental health. Ask friends and family members to help out for a few hours or for a day (or two). One study found that caregivers who carved out time for an activity they love had healthier blood pressure levels!

Eat well and fit in exercise. Keep fruit and veggies on hand for snacks and make healthy meals you can enjoy with your loved one. Get outside for a couple of short strolls every day or do a strength-training routine while watching TV. According to the National Institutes of Health, the benefits include more energy; a brighter mood; and reduced risk for heart disease, diabetes and low bone density.

Put your own medical appointments on your calendar—in pen! Make your own health a priority; you’ll feel better and be able to better care for others in your life. As many as one-third of caregivers admit they don’t keep up with basic health checks and screenings (such as dental and eye exams, prostate checks, and mammograms)..

Talk about your feelings. Frustration, guilt, sadness, anger, love, grief … caregiving can trigger strong emotions. Talking with a friend or sharing with a support group are healthy ways to express feelings. Be sure to get help if you have signs of burnout such as depression; growing dependence on alcohol, sleeping pills or drugs; have trouble sleeping; or feel you’re neglecting or mistreating the person you’re caring for.

Practice positivity. In a recent Northwestern University study of 170 caregivers with a loved one with dementia, focusing on positive emotions reduced depression and anxiety. Study participants made it a point to savor positive experiences, recognize personal strengths, keep a gratitude journal, perform a small act of kindness every day, or do a 10-minute meditation exercise while focusing on their breathing.

Recognize when your loved one needs more help. Grocery deliveries, home health visits, transportation services, and adult day care can help your loved one stay independent and help you care for them. But they may need more daily care than you can provide, and might require the need of a professional caregiver. Discuss the situation with your loved one’s doctor. Resources and information are available through Valley Health Home Health services for those who meet appropriate criteria. If your relative needs a medical evaluation, find a primary care provider in your community at