Caring for loved ones is a job that requires selflessness, dedication and love. Just ask any caregiver. Unfortunately, it can sometimes cause a caregiver to put their health and their priorities on the back burner.
“People put their loved ones’ needs above their own every day, but when those loved ones are critically ill, aging, or their health needs are especially dire, they’re even less likely to take time for themselves,” explains Mary Kathleen O’Leary, PsyD, psychologist with Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital. “Caregiving is an important job, but caregivers need to remember the importance of self-care, too.”
Below, Dr. O’Leary offers tips for caregivers to help ease the stress of caring for loved ones.
As often as possible, try to share your caretaking responsibilities with others. If you’re caring for an aging parent, split the responsibility with a sibling or other family member. If it’s your children, ask a spouse for help.
If you find yourself unable to find another family member or friend who can help, look into a professional caretaking service that can help share the responsibility during hours that you have other commitments. Although you may want to be available at all times, it’s impossible to be available 24/7.
Make time for exercise
There are other stress relief methods out there, but exercise is still one of the most effective ways to relieve stress, boost your mood, and improve your health. In addition to being good for your health, exercise is time you can carve out for yourself in the midst of a busy week.
Recognize the symptoms of stress
You may think you can do it all, but it is possible to stretch yourself too thin. Look out for the symptoms of stress, like chest pain, aches and pains, upset stomach, headaches, fatigue, and a weakened immune system. When warning signs like these pop up, it’s a warning sign.
“Stress can be a contributor to major health issues and wreaks havoc on your body. If you start to notice the signs of stress, it’s your body telling you that you’re doing too much,” says Dr. O’Leary.
Take time for yourself
In addition to caring for a loved one, many caretakers are also juggling family, career, and social obligations. If you’re not taking setting some time each week aside for yourself, you’ll likely experience caregiver burn out pretty quickly.
“In order to provide the best care that you can, you have to provide care to yourself, too,” says Dr. O’Leary. “Set aside time every week, even if it’s just a half hour, to meditate, read a book, go for a walk, or just relax. You’ll need time to recharge.”
Look for a support group
Many people are serving as caregivers for their loved ones, but it’s easy to feel alone. Look for caregiver support groups in your area, as many hospitals, health systems, or nursing homes may know of one in your area to connect you with other caregivers who encounter the same issues as you. If there are none in your area, start one of your own.
Main Line Health is dedicated to helping people maintain or improve their quality of life. We are committed to serving seniors, their families and caregivers, by providing information, services and support to help meet your specific needs and preferences. Our Senior Care Line, a free service to the community, connects you with Main Line Health services or other organizations and agencies that can help.
Our senior care representative can also provide information and help with access to primary care, inpatient and post-acute care available at Main Line Health or in the community. Please call the Senior Care Line at 484.580.1234 or visit our senior services webpage for information and assistance.