Caregiving can be a full-time job, and it’s easy to neglect your own health. It can even lead to feelings of disconnectedness, serious stress or burnout.
Getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods and staying connected with friends can help you avoid these negative effects. Here are some tips to take care of yourself as a caregiver: 1. Choose to care for yourself.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Caring for a loved one can be a round-the-clock responsibility that can make sleep hard to come by. Asking for help from family and friends or a professional caregiver to take over some duties a few nights a week can give you time to rest.
Maintaining a regular schedule for eating and sleeping is important for getting enough rest. Avoid foods or beverages with high levels of caffeine during the day and before bedtime, as they can keep you awake.
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to forgetfulness, a lowered reaction rate, weight gain, and a weakened immune system. It is also a risk factor for depression. If you have difficulty sleeping, talk to your doctor. There are several medications that can help you get a better night’s rest.
2. Eat Healthy Foods
Often, family caregivers tend to neglect their own health in favor of meeting the needs of their loved ones. As a result, they may eat too many sugary snacks or skip meals altogether. Nutritious eating promotes good health and provides the energy needed to prevent a caregiver from falling sick.
Caregivers can be at risk for a wide variety of health and wellness issues, including sleep problems, weight gain, depression and chronic illnesses like heart disease. They are also more likely to get sick and to experience symptoms of stress overload or burnout.
CenterLight dietitian Kaitlyn Hempfling shares helpful tips on how to eat healthy while caring for an older parent or spouse. She recommends incorporating fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat dairy into your diet.
While pumping iron at the gym might sound out of reach or unappealing to caregivers already working with a busy schedule, getting physically active can benefit your health and help you feel better equipped for your caregiving role. Exercise relieves pain and stiffness from chronic conditions, improves posture and flexibility and increases stamina to help manage your workload.
Caregivers are often too focused on their loved ones’ needs to think about their own health and fitness, but it’s important to find ways to get physical activity. Taking short walks, dancing, yoga or doing stretches on a daily basis can be easy and fun ways to keep up your endurance and strength.
If you’re struggling to fit exercise into your schedule, consider joining a group or using an exercise buddy app to stay motivated and accountable. A few minutes of endorphin-boosting exercise can make a big difference in your mood and well-being.
4. Stay Connected with Friends and Family
Caregivers often find that over time, friends and family distance themselves from them. It may be that they grow tired of hearing about their caregiving challenges or it may be that they don’t want to be reminded that their own lives have become a little less than ideal.
If you’re starting to feel that isolation is setting in, try reaching out to those close to you. They can help provide you with life balance, perspective and even a sense of humour that you may be missing. Even a short phone call with a friend can make a big difference. Consider joining a caregiver support group either in your local community or online. Meeting others who are experiencing the same issues as you will remind you that you’re not alone in what you are going through.
5. See Your Doctor
Many caregivers find themselves accompanying their loved one to physician appointments for a number of reasons, including monitoring progress, reviewing test results and discussing treatments. It’s often helpful for caregivers to attend these appointments because hearing what the doctor has to say directly can help prevent miscommunication and misinterpretation of treatment plans.
To make the most of their time at these visits, it’s a good idea for caregivers to prepare a list of questions in advance. This helps them remember what they want to ask and makes the doctor’s visit more productive.
Additionally, it’s important for caregivers to bring a list of all the person’s medications and dietary supplements, including over-the-counter medications. This ensures that the doctor has a complete picture of what is being taken, which can help avoid medication interactions.