Caregivers take heart. You are not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 43 million U.S. adults provide unpaid care for someone with a serious health condition each year. These unsung heroes provide countless hours of support to those they love while risking their own health as the strain of caregiving takes its toll.
At some point in our lives, we will be, or have been, caregivers. If you are a member of a family, you have probably been a caregiver. Caregiving tasks such as helping with daily routines and managing medical appointments and health insurance require stamina and rest. While some people thrive and strengthen connections to loved ones through caregiving, for many this strain can be overwhelming. Nearly two-thirds of caregivers are women, and many are working full-time jobs. Helping someone who can’t fully care for themselves can be a drain on one’s physical and emotional health and may compromise one’s own self-care.
I became a caregiver in 2008 when my husband, Craig, suffered a traumatic brain injury as the result of a bicycle accident. Being thrust into a world of unknowns: a language I didn’t understand and a prognosis no one dared to offer, I became a patient advocate without having the knowledge I needed to make decisions for Craig. This urgent caregiving is life altering and it divided my world into “before” and “after” his accident. I quickly learned to say “yes” to friends when meals were offered, “yes” to visitors who were willing to bedsit while I took a break and “yes” to dear friends who even offered to clean my house. These efforts lightened my load and allowed me to focus my energy on Craig’s healing process. Those were dark days, but they were enriched by those willing to share their kindness and love.
While caregiving can frustrate and exhaust you, there are techniques to help manage your stress, including these, adapted from the NIH and Patricia Morrow with Caring Bridge. Which of these strategies could work for you?
Wise Choices: Self-Care for Caregivers
- Gain control and get organized: Make to-do lists and set a daily routine.
- Ask for and accept help: Make a list of ways others can help. Perhaps someone can pick up groceries or sit with the person while you run errands. Say “yes” to offers of meals.
- Take breaks: Enjoy a little solitude each day or spend time with friends.
- Eat healthy foods and exercise (even a short walk) when possible.
- Sleep when you can.
- Start journaling: Putting your thoughts and feelings into written words can be a good release for pent-up emotions.
- Reclaim your identity: Spending time on your passions will help remind you that you are more than a caregiver. Try to engage in an activity that makes you feel most like yourself.
- Meditate: Meditation creates a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both the mind and body.
- Have a healthy dose of laughter: Laughing lightens your emotional load and actually causes physical changes in your body. Funny animal videos anyone?
- Prioritize your own medical needs: You can’t be there for your loved one if you are not taking care of yourself. Tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver and mention if you have symptoms of depression or sickness.
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, prominent advocate of caregiving, famously said there are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.
I hope these tips help you manage the stress that comes with supporting a loved one and serve as a reminder that you deserve the same amount of care that you provide every day.
Remember the UUCF Pastoral Care Team is another resource for support when you are struggling. Please contact Rev. Christin C. Green or me if you need assistance.
Caregiver Assistance and Support Groups
- AARP Caregiving Help and Support – 877-333-5885
- AARP Virginia Caregiver Resources
- Family Caregiver Alliance – 800-445-8106
- Caregiver.com – 800-829-2734
- Caregiver Action Network – 202-454-3970
- Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers – 229-928-1234
- Well Spouse Association
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