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Care for the Caregiver

Caregiving is a tremendous responsibility, and while most caregivers find the experience emotionally rewarding, many also report they felt taxed both emotionally and physically. 

Caregivers spend so much time taking care of others; they often fail to take care of themselves.  According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, caregivers report sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, failure to exercise, failure to stay in bed when ill and failure to make it to their own medical appointments.  This emotional toll on the caregiver’s psyche, the physical demands of providing care and the day-to-day demands on time and resources can lead to stress.

The Family Caregiver Alliance suggests caregivers ask themselves the following questions to determine their level of stress:

  • Is my caregiving voluntary?  You could feel strain and resentment if you had no choice in taking on the responsibility. 
  • What is my relationship like with the care recipient?  If you took on the responsibility of caregiving in the hope of healing a broken relationship, you could feel regretful or discouraged if that healing is not occurring. 
  • How are my coping abilities?  How you have coped with stress in the past can help predict how you will cope in the future.
  • How demanding is the caregiving situation?  The intensity of care needed can contribute to the amount of stress you feel.
  • Am I alone?  Have you considered asking other family members or outside support services for help?  Research shows that only 10-20 percent of family caregivers use formal services through public or private agencies.

Identify the stress factors you can and cannot change.  Trying to change things you cannot control will only increase your sense of frustration.  On the other hand, making change where change is possible can enhance your feeling of control and help reduce anxiety.

Take Action

Walking and other forms of exercise, gardening, meditation, or simply having coffee with a friend can help reduce stress.  Walking 20 minutes a day, three times a week offers great physical benefits and reduces psychological tension. 

Regular exercise can also help you be a better caregiver; it promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression and increases energy and alertness.  Maintain a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.  Take care of yourself before you care for someone else.

Find Support

Friends often ask caregivers if there is anything they can do to help, yet how often do caregivers take them up on the offer?  The next time you’re asked, answer, “As a matter of fact, there is something you could do.”  Then ask them to choose something from a list of tasks you’ve customized for you and the one in your care. 

The book A Caregiver’s Survival Guide, by Kay Marshall Strom, suggests your list include tasks such as:

  • shopping or other errands
  • sitting with your loved one so you can go out for a while
  • bringing a casserole or dessert in a disposable container
  • writing thank-you notes for you
  • bringing a magazine, newspaper or book to read to your loved one
  • helping with house cleaning
  • washing the car
  • doing yard work or gardening
  • bringing a pet to visit
  • playing a game or working on a crossword puzzle with your loved one
  • taking your children for the afternoon or including your kids in their family outing