As caregivers struggle to find more hours in the day, their own health and well-being is often the first thing to suffer. So what happens when the person giving the care isn't taking the time to take care of themselves? Sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety, depression, and an increased risk for a multitude of other health problems is often the result. If you or someone you know is neglecting your own health and happiness in order to provide much needed care for a loved one, there are important steps you should take starting today
- Make yourself a priority. There's a reason airlines constantly remind us to put our own oxygen mask on before assisting others: if you are incapacitated, you aren't going to be able to help anyone else. If you think taking care of yourself is selfish, ask yourself who will take care of your loved one if you get sick? Staying healthy is the best thing you can do not only for yourself – but also for those that depend on you. So for the sake of those you love, as well as for yourself, put these things at the very top of your list of priorities:
- Get adequate sleep. Even a couple of nights of sleep deprivation can increase your risk of illness, injury, or making poor decisions because your judgment is impaired.
- Eat regular and balanced meals. Skipping meals is never a good idea, and fast food solutions can quickly zap your energy and contribute to weight gain and other health problems. Focus on fruits and vegetables, good quality protein, and high fiber grains. Yogurt, raw nuts, fresh fruits, hard boiled eggs, whole grain toast with peanut butter, cheese sticks, baby carrots and tomatoes are all quick, convenient, easy to transport, and full of vitamins and nutrients.
- Get a little exercise every day – even if it's just a 10 minute walk around the block. And make sure that at least three days a week you get a more intense 30 minute session in. If will help clear your mind and give you mental and physical energy.
- Meditate. Just 5-10 minutes a day spent meditating and focusing on your breathing can help you relax and keep stress and anxiety in check.
- Monitor your alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol consumption is a common problem among caregivers, and one that can develop quickly. An occasional drink is fine, but drinking to help deal with stress is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Limit alcohol consumption to two-three drinks per week, and make an effort to stay hydrated with lots of water every day.
- Schedule at least one fun, social event every single week. Go to a movie or concert, participate in a book club, take a cooking class, go shopping with a friend – just make sure it's something you'll enjoy!
- Be realistic and forgiving. Being a caregiver can be a thankless job. You won't be able to meet everyone's expectations, and you're bound to be your own harshest critic. Remind yourself that the care you give will comfort, aid, and assist – but it can't eliminate the pain and frustration your loved one is dealing with. If you aren't a caregiver right now, chances are you will be at some point in your life. Pay it forward now by helping out a struggling caregiver. Deliver a meal, clean their house, take over for a few hours so they can get a break, or just lend a listening ear. Taking care of the caregiver – whether it's you or someone else – is a positive thing for everybody.
This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.