A caregiver is someone who provides personal care to someone who is unable to take care of themselves. This could be an older person, such as a parent, or a person of any age impacted by physical or intellectual disabilities. The caregiver provides this assistance on a regular, often daily, basis. They may help the person prepare food, take medicine, bathe, get dressed, navigate doctor’s visits and trips within the community.
If you’re a caregiver, it can take a lot out of you, both physically and emotionally. You can feel overwhelmed. But it’s important to not ignore your own health while caring for others. Here are some things you can do to stay in top shape while caring for someone.
Path to improved health
Make wellness a priority
It may be hard to believe, but being a caregiver can be rewarding. It may bring you closer to the person you are helping.
It can also be stressful. As a caregiver, you may feel you have to “do it all,” regardless of the toll it takes on you. However, one of the most important things you can do is take care of yourself.
- Visit your doctor for regular check-ups.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Get plenty of rest. If you’re short on sleep, take naps when your loved one does.
- It can be hard to find 30 minutes in a row to exercise. Instead, try doing three 10-minute workouts throughout the day. Also, find an exercise buddy. You’re more likely to stick with exercise if you have a partner. Aim for getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week plus two days of strength training. It will give you more energy, reduce stress, and improve your mood.
- Take deep breaths or meditate to reduce stress.
- Take a short break. Schedule time for things you enjoy. Do this at least once a week. Doing so will make you better able to care for your loved one
Caregiving is often a full-time job. And you may be doing it along with your paid job or taking care of your children. To help everyone know what to expect, make a schedule with your family. This will help all of you stay organized.
Also try to follow a daily routine. This will help make daily tasks seem less overwhelming.
Create a support team
There will be many times you’ll need help. Maybe you won’t be available for an appointment. Or you need someone to run an errand. Plan for those times in advance. Make a list of people who are willing to help. The list may include family members, friends, and temporary care workers. The list should include phone numbers, the times people are available, and the tasks they can do. Keep the list with you in case you’re away from home and need to ask for help.
If your loved one is suffering from a disease, learn all you can about it. Being informed by credible sources (such as familydoctor.org) can give you a sense of control. It can also help you know what to expect. Online support groups are a good source of education. Of course, speak with your loved one’s doctor. They can provide information, too.
Talk about your emotions
Sometimes, you may feel you shouldn’t burden people with your feelings. But talking about how you feel can relieve stress. Talk with family members or friends who can provide support. You may even want to join a support group. A support group lets you connect with others in the same situation. It provides a safe place to share your feelings and experiences. Your doctor can suggest ways to find a support group.
Know there is a limit to what you can do as a caregiver. Recognize when you feel overwhelmed and ask for help.
Sometimes it may be helpful to talk with a counselor about your feelings. Your doctor can refer you to one.
Use a professional when you can
As a caregiver, you may need to make financial decisions or other decisions that you are not equipped to make. For example, you may need to assist a person in filing their taxes. If this is stressful for you, or if you are not experienced in this matter, pay a professional to help.
Things to consider
Caring for a loved one brings many emotions. That’s normal. You may feel scared, angry, sad, or lonely. You may feel guilty. Be attentive, though. Caregiving can lead to stress-overload and depression. If you have any of the symptoms listed below, see your doctor right away. They can help.
Signs of stress-overload
- Feeling alone
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling sad
- Anger toward the person you care for, your family, or yourself
- Social withdrawal
- No interest in things you used to enjoy
- Sleep problems (sleeping too much or not enough)
- Extreme tiredness
- Gaining or losing weight
- Health problems (such as catching a series of colds or flu)
Signs of depression
- No interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or helpless
- Loss of energy
- Crying easily or for no reason
- Feeling slowed down, restless, and irritable
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Change in appetite, unintended weight loss or gain
- Trouble recalling things, concentrating, or making decisions
- Headaches, backaches, or digestive problems
- Sleep problems (sleeping too much or not enough)
- Continuous headaches or stomach pain that don’t go away
- Loss of interest in sex
- Thoughts about death or suicide
Questions for your doctor
- Where can I find someone to help me with my caregiving tasks?
- I’m feeling overwhelmed with caregiving. What can I do to feel better?
- How much time should I be spending on myself each week?
- Why is it hard to talk about how I feel?
- Where can I find a support group?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.