Whether you or someone you know is caring for a spouse, family member, or have been hired to support a senior who needs additional help, caregiving can be challenging no matter the circumstance. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 53% of caregivers have experienced a decline in their health that has impacted their ability to provide care.
Because of the stressful nature of the job, many caregivers experience elevated levels of depression and anxiety, a decline in physical health, and comprised immune function. While caregiving provides support to those who need it, caregivers often forget to care for themselves. If you are a caregiver or know someone who is, here are a few simple ways to make sure you’re getting the care you need to adequately provide support to those who need it.
Provide Emotional Support
One of the most important things caregivers need is emotional support. Knowing that someone cares about them and will go out of their way to support them is essential. Even simply listening to someone vent about their day or providing a shoulder to cry on can be enough. Many caregivers also work part- or full-time jobs outside of the health care field, especially if they are caring for a parent. This adds an extra layer of stress, so being willing to provide a listening ear will go a long way.
Prioritize Eating Well
For some people, especially for spouses, caregiving can be a full-time job. Oftentimes basic tasks, like preparing meals and making time to eat, can get pushed to the side to make time for priorities. However, eating balanced meals throughout the day will help you stay healthy and decrease the risk of illness, headaches, and fatigue. In addition to consuming healthy meals comprised of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, caregivers should make sure to consume plenty of water throughout the day.
Recognize and Understand Hard Work
Caregivers need love and respect for what they do. Unless you’ve been in a similar position, many people don’t fully appreciate all of the hard work caregivers do. They also need someone to listen to their needs without passing judgment or giving them advice. Time to themselves is also an important aspect of their self-care that is often overlooked.
Allow Time to Recharge
A day or two of respite can make a huge difference in the physical and mental health of caregivers, especially after a rough period. Along with respite, you also need reliable resources for care needs of their loved one. Often caregivers don’t know where to turn or who to ask when they need medical supplies or help.
Exercising after a long day of care-giving can feel impossible. However endorphins released from physical activity can help boost your mood in addition to giving you extra energy to finish daily tasks. Physical activity can also help make daily care-giving tasks, like lifting or pushing a wheelchair, much easier.
You don’t have to spend hours at the gym to reap the benefits of physical activity. In fact, just taking a walk, swimming, or enrolling in aerobics or yoga classes will help improve your health, while being gentle on your body.
As a caregiver, it’s easy to be hard on yourself and constantly ask questions like, “am I doing enough?” However, it’s crucial for caregivers to practice self-compassion. This means giving yourself credit for the work you do without criticizing yourself for what you could have done better. Start by carving out just two minutes of your day to reflect on all the wonderful things you were able to accomplish.
Try Meditation or Other Mind-body Practices
Practicing meditation, yoga, or tai chi can help you focus on your breathing during difficult or frustrating moments. These practices can also help reduce feelings of stress that can come with the care-giving profession. You can start by taking a yoga class, spending a few minutes in silence, or using an app on your phone to meditate.
It’s not uncommon for caregivers to feel isolated, depressed, or lonely. It’s important to stay connected to your support system. Make plans with friends and family during some of your respite time, or you might even consider scheduling a phone call with a friend during your loved one’s rest time.
More Ideas for How to Support a Caregiver
- Provide a listening ear when they need to talk through or vent about something.
- Offer to bring them something they enjoy or take them out for a little bit.
- Give them time to themselves without having to worry about their responsibilities.
- Offer to help them when you can so they don’t feel like they’re in their situation alone.