Caregiver Well-being, During the Holidays and Beyond

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by Leanne Loughran, FCA Student Intern

Most caregivers discover that being responsible for the care of another person is not an easy task. Also, that it isn't really just one, but a series of numerous and often daunting tasks. Juggling work and family life on top of caregiving duties leaves little time to focus on your own needs and well-being.

Each week caregivers take time to schedule and attend doctors’ appointments, pick up medications, and assist the care receiver, with the intent being to improve their health and quality of life as best we can. However as we become increasingly relied upon, attention to our own basic requirements wans; personal checkups, dental visits and taking time to simply relax or workout becomes  viewed as inessential or impossible to fit in. The effect of this is not only physical, but mental and emotional too. Depression, stress, immune weakness and higher rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease are all common results of long-term caregiving.

As caregivers we often set an ideological standard for ourselves in which we are obligated not to speak of our own needs or stresses. However, the irony is that by not addressing our own health needs we are not able to provide the level of care that we hope to give.  Here are a few of the ways you can help to look after you and your health:

Tip 1- Dealing with stress

We all experience stress at certain points, caregivers however are more prone to prolonged and high level stress, which is associated with headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping etc.

Learning to prevent and deal with stress can have a significant positive impact on your wellbeing and outlook. Exercise, social activities with friends and meditation are excellent ways to support your body and mind.

When you’re stressed, do you get a headache? Become irritable or restless? Learning to recognize your ‘stress symptoms’ is beneficial as you can then identify the key sources of your anxiety. Try to avoid or minimize stress triggers wherever possible, as even small changes can make a major difference. Simply entering a situation with a more relaxed mindset can help you perceive and manage a situation differently.

Taking ‘Me’ time is vital. Setting aside even small amounts of time to walk, exercise, read or meet with friends can help reduce stress levels considerably.

Tip 2- Take time away from caregiving.

For many, this may sound easier said than done. Caregivers often feel alone in their situation and don’t know where to turn for help. Reaching out to friends and family to assist in the caregiving can offer tremendous relief and support. Creating a list of who is willing to help and when they are available can help you create a schedule which offers free time for you to focus on your needs. 

Organizations such as the Family Caregiver Alliance and Eldercare Locator can also help to identify resources in your area that may be able to assist you.

Tip 3- Join a support group.

As a growing number of individuals take on the caregiver role, support groups have sprung up to meet the needs of this population. Taking advantage of these support networks can offer many benefits; it allows you to see that you are not alone, which many caregivers find comforting and offers you an opportunity to speak about your frustration, anxieties and issues.

This time among peers can offer a new perspective and help you to identify various management tools and resources which are relevant to your situation.

Tip 4- Communicate effectively with the Physician

As caregivers increasingly become relied upon to administer medication, injections etc. they often have to meet with the physician to gain advice and information on these topics, as well as to address other health concerns of their loved one. Seldom however do the caregivers utilize this time to discuss their own health needs.

Preparing questions ahead of time and booking an appointment first thing in the morning, after lunch or the at the end of the day can reduce your wait time and help you make the most of your visit.

What’s more, it is important that you use assertive communication and "I" messages. You should regard the medical care team as your partners in care. Present what you need, what your concerns are, and how the doctor and/or nurse can help. Use specific, clear "I" statements like the following: "I need to know more about the diagnosis; I will feel better prepared for the future if I know what's in store for me." Or "I am feeling rundown. I'd like to make an appointment for myself and my husband next week." In doing this you increase your confidence, your relationship with the physician and the likelihood that your needs will be met.

Caring for the Caregiver

We all know someone who has or is currently providing care and we have seen the impact that this role can have on the physical and emotional wellbeing of that person. Taking time off without feeling guilty, tending to our own needs and asking for help when you need it can greatly improve the caregiving experience for both youself and the care receiver.

For more information please visit:

https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-health

 

References:

Family Caregiver Alliance (2012) https://www.caregiver.org/taking-care-you-self-care-family-caregivers

Family Doctor.org (2012) https://familydoctor.org/caregiver-health-and-wellness/

Wondering Wandering (2013) http://wonderingonwandering.com/post/48852805741/why-we-should-care-about-caregivers-especially-in

Date: 
Monday, December 22, 2014