It’s estimated that 34.2 million American adults are unpaid caregivers to an older adult, often a spouse, parent, or other relative. Family caregivers help with a range of different daily activities, from dressing, grooming, bathing, and medication management to providing assistance with tasks like housekeeping, grocery shopping, meal preparation, and transportation. But while the level of care provided may vary, all caregivers face the mental, physical, and emotional challenges that come with supporting another person.
According to a 2015 AARP report on caregiving, 22% of caregivers reported they have worsened health due to caregiving, and 38% of caregivers reported that caregiving was “highly stressful.” Although caregiving can be highly rewarding, there’s no doubt that it can be difficult to take care of yourself while also taking care of a loved one.
So, what can caregivers do to find balance and prevent the risk of caregiver stress and burnout? Here are some ways to step back and care for yourself:
Daily exercise is known to produce hormones in your body that promote happiness and relieve stress. No matter what form of exercise you try, whether it’s walking, jogging, biking, swimming, or taking a fitness class, it’s important to do something that you enjoy. Even exercising just a few times a week can boost your energy and lead to incredible physical and mental health benefits.
When our bodies are under stress, we often experience cravings for unhealthy, high-calorie foods, which can provide a temporary calming effect. However, over time, the habit of turning to “comfort foods” can lead to health problems, including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even diabetes. Luckily, there are healthy foods that can actually help your body recover from stress and satisfy your cravings for sugary or salty snacks. The key is to keep fresh, nourishing foods within reach. Some delicious, stress-fighting foods include strawberries, blueberries, oranges, avocados, nuts, and dark chocolate.
Rest and recharge
Restful, quality sleep is essential for caregivers, but many caregivers find themselves struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get enough sleep at night. A lack of sleep can make caregiving tasks more difficult and reduce your ability to manage stress. Ideally, you should aim to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. To prepare for a restful night’s sleep, try cutting back on caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and limit your screen time just before bed. If you have chronic sleep problems, it’s always best to talk to your physician.
Try relaxation techniques
Practicing relaxation exercises can help you cope better with daily stress. For example, there are numerous guided mindfulness meditation exercises available online or as smartphone applications. You could also try listening to calming music while taking deep breaths, practicing yoga, or journaling. Taking just a few moments in your busy day to breathe and relax can prevent stress and evoke feelings of happiness.
Social support is crucial for caregivers, who are often at risk for experiencing isolation and loneliness. Be sure you’re taking time to socialize with friends on a regular basis, whether its by meeting for coffee or lunch, or even having a short phone call. Especially if your loved one has a chronic condition such as Alzheimer’s disease, joining an in-person or online caregiver support group can offer a wealth of benefits. In a support group, you can share your experiences in a judgement-free environment and receive comfort, insight, and advice from other caregivers who understand your situation.
Know when it’s time to seek help
Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed as a caregiver, don’t be afraid to seek help. Remember, you don’t have to struggle on your own. If your loved one needs more help than you can provide at home, consider the advantages of an assisted living community. In assisted living, your loved one will have access to care and support 24 hours a day from caring professionals and nurses in a safe, welcoming environment. While it can be a difficult decision to make, moving to assisted living is often the best decision for the overall health, happiness, and wellbeing of older adults and their family caregivers.
If you’re just starting the search for assisted living, we encourage you to plan ahead, visit nearby assisted living communities, and ask plenty of questions to find the right fit for your family and your loved one.