Courtesy of Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging, Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
Caring for a sick or aging parent, spouse, or other relative or friend is a true labor of love for many people, but it can also be a significant source of stress. If you regularly provide care for a loved one, you may find yourself feeling stressed, depressed, angry, resentful, guilty, or overwhelmed. These emotions are normal, but they’re also a sign that caregivers need to attend to their own needs, as well as others’. If you’re one of the nearly 25 percent of Americans currently providing at least basic assistance for a loved one, consider the following steps to take care of yourself, too.
Stay healthy. Eat a wholesome diet, try to fit in regular exercise, and practice a relaxation technique such as breath work or meditation whenever possible. Spending enjoyable downtime with your loved one – by listening to music, eating, or walking together – may also ease stress.
Be social. Spend quality time with other loved ones at least once a day, and take the opportunity to socialize with friends – either away from home or while caregiving – when time permits.
Reach out to others. You can’t do everything yourself. Make a list of chores that you need assistance with, such as shopping or cleaning, and be ready to ask for help with these tasks when others offer assistance.
Get in touch with your feelings. Feeling overwhelmed can make you more likely to suffer from depression. Speak to a health professional if you’re feeling stressed or down. It’s also a good idea for all caregivers to share their emotions, whether with a therapist, or by writing in a daily journal. If you attend a support group, find one that leaves you feeling connected and recharged, rather than discouraged.
Take a breather. Adult day care or in-home respite care can provide a welcome break for caregivers. To locate these and related services, contact your local Area Agency on Aging or eldercare organization (visit www.eldercare.gov to find yours).
You may be able to improve or streamline your caregiving efforts by trying these tips:
Learn more. By educating yourself about your loved one’s condition, you’ll be better equipped to cope with it. Talk to physicians, visit your local library, and contact related health organizations. If you surf the Internet for information, try to steer clear of personal horror stories or depressing predictions that have been posted by someone with an agenda.
Make a plan. Once you know more about your loved one’s needs, you can draw up a plan of attack when it comes to their care. This can include a list of the tasks that you can do, as well as those that may need to be farmed out to adult day care, home health aides, and other resources. If you are your loved one’s primary caregiver, you should also discuss finances and legal documents (such as wills and end-of-life requests) with them.
Seek out benefits. Contact your loved one’s insurance provider; he or she may be eligible for nutrition services, tax relief, or other benefits.
Safety-proof your home. Check your home for – and eliminate – potential dangers, such as fire hazards, sharp objects, loose rugs, and cluttered pathways.
Hire help. If being your loved one’s sole source of support is too overwhelming, consider hiring a care manager. This professional can help assess your needs and coordinate services. Visit www.caremanager.org for more information.