According to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, an estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States provide unpaid care to an adult or a child each year. These caregivers are a diverse group, coming from every age, gender, socioeconomic and racial/ethnic group. However, many caregivers share similar struggles and need to be aware of their own needs in order to stay healthy. Here are five ways to help yourself when you are a caregiver.
1. Keep in touch with your doctor.
Sometimes the one being cared for rarely misses doctors’ appointments, while the caregiver cancels all of their own medical appointments. It makes sense. If you are a caregiver, you are making sure that the one you are caring for attends all of their doctor visits. But who is making sure that you attend your appointments? Not to mention, sometimes there is no time for one more appointment in the week. However, not taking care of your own health can be disastrous for you and the one you care for. It is very important to let your doctor know you are in a caregiving situation. Giving him a heads up can save you time later if you need a shorter office wait time or need to miss an appointment.
In one study of cancer patients, 95 percent of caregivers expressed sleep problems. These sleep disturbances can lead to depressive symptoms and the inability to provide care. Some caregivers may be afraid to talk to their doctors about their sleep problems because they are worried that they will be removed from their responsibilities if they admit to their own problems. However, a good doctor will understand and may provide short-term sleep medication or other ideas to help you get back on track.
3. Talk to others who have navigated it successfully.
Caregiving can involve a wide range of emotions. Sometimes it is helpful to talk to a friend who has been a caregiver. Those who have not been in your situation may not understand some of what you are feeling. Experienced caregivers can tell you that it is all temporary: the good parts and the bad parts.
4. Practice positive self-talk.
Mistakes are made daily at work. Many of us leave our workplace at the end of the day with a lot of tasks left undone, and rarely is our job done perfectly. It is therefore important that you do not put unreasonable expectations on yourself in your role as a caregiver. Mistakes are going to be made. There will be a lot of undone tasks at the end of the day. Speaking kindly to yourself is extremely important to your health.
Especially if you are working outside of the home and also caregiving, finding time to exercise can seem nearly impossible. However, the benefits of exercise are so great to our health that making time to workout should be at the top of the list. Exercise allows us to handle physical and mental stress better. It also works positively on our moods and may provide a little extra patience.
Dr. Tracy Davenport is a health writer, advocate and entrepreneur who has been helping individuals live their best life. She is co-author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux. Follow Tracy’s love of smoothies on Twitter.