Terry stacks the breakfast dishes in the sink, hands the freshly packed lunch boxes to her son and daughter, and then hustles them to the school bus. With a smile and a wave she promises, “I’ll pick you up after school for Girl Scouts and baseball practice.”
She scurries back into the house to spoon-feed her father his breakfast before leaving for her part-time job. After wiping his hands and face, she kisses his nose, helps him into the car, buckles him in, and drives him to day care. Hugging him, she promises, “I’ll pick you up at lunchtime, Dad.” With a vacant look in his eyes he asks, “But what about breakfast?”
Chronic Stress & Caregiving
Perhaps you, like Terry, are one of the 54 million Americans caring for a family member. You know firsthand that caregiving depletes a person not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Caregivers of someone with a chronic illness have a 63%chance of dying early. Women who care for grandchildren have a 55% greater risk of heart disease. It’s no wonder caregivers often experience troublesome feelings such as depression, resentment, worry, helplessness, exhaustion, guilt, anger, and sadness.
However, when you care for yourself as conscientiously as you care for others, these statistics and severe emotions can be drastically reduced.
Here are 10 easy tips to help you care for you:
- Eat properly and regularly. Include meats, fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy in your diet every day. Keep healthy foods and snacks on hand. Make double recipes and freeze leftovers for quick meals. Drink three or four glasses of water a day.
- Exercise a little everyday, even if it is only for 10 minutes. Take a short walk, use that treadmill or do calisthenics indoors.
- Get adequate sleep. (Easy for me to say!) Try to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, though it may be interrupted. Sleep when your care recipient sleeps. Leave the dishes in the sink another hour and take naps.
- Schedule time out for yourself every day. Use relaxation or stress- management techniques such a meditation, visualization, biofeedback, and yoga. Find respite care so you can regularly take time away to nurture yourself.
- Pay attention to your own feelings and emotions. Talk to friends and family; join support groups. Seek counseling if needed.
- Pray—every day. Read spiritually uplifting books and listen to those programs and tapes. Attend church or synagogue.
- Stay actively involved with friends and hobbies. When it is hard to get out, invite others in. (But don’t clean first!)
- Subscribe to supportive caregiving periodicals and magazines.Today’s Caregiver, Caring Today, and/or Hopekeepers are some good ones. Read inspirational encouraging books such as Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul.
- Tap into community-based and national resources for support. The National Family Caregiver’s Association, the Family Caregiver Alliance, and the Area Agency on Aging, are great places to start.
- Ask for help. Friends and family want to help, but have no idea how; they are eager to hear your needs and they welcome your suggestions. When someone offers, say “Yes!” Tell them how their company would be appreciated and how great a home-cooked meal would be. Let them sit with your loved one, even for 30 minutes, so you can read or pray or walk.
When you care for yourself with the same devotion you do for others, your loved one will receive care from a happier, healthier caregiver; and you will feel cared for, too—a much needed and overdue reward.
LeAnn Thieman is coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul and a nationally acclaimed professional speaker, author and nurse. To learn more caregiving issues, her books or presentations see www.LeAnnThieman.com .