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The selflessness it takes to care for a loved one, week after week, can take its toll. It can cause long-term resentment and make a serious impact on your own physical, mental and spiritual health. In fact, when caregivers set aside their own needs, they often wind up sick, stressed and unable to take care of their loved ones.
It’s common for caregivers to prioritize the needs of their loved ones. But it’s critical for them to set aside time to attend to their own medical, spiritual and social needs. Just as you wouldn’t drive without a seatbelt, you shouldn’t care for someone else without taking steps to ensure you’re around to help them and be at your best.
Putting your own needs first is not easy. After all, caregivers by their very natures are used to putting their loved ones first.
They have been known to postpone their own mammograms, switch appointments with their loved ones or fill a loved one’s prescription before their own. But a caregiver who ignores the effect of long-term stress on their health will ultimately become unable to effectively care for their loved one.
Good Stress and Bad Stress
Stress isn’t always a bad thing. If it’s relatively brief, it can help us rise to a challenge. It can be stressful to drive through a crowded city, but that stress helps you focus on the task at hand. Our body has hormones and chemical reactions to keep our minds and bodies focused and high functioning. And the body returns to normal after you’re done.
But what if the body is never given a chance to recover? Continually exposing your body to stress hormones can break down its defenses and lower your immunity.
Caregivers regularly admit to feeling chronically stressed, and it shows in their health. Research has found that those who have been providing care for five years are 70 percent more likely to say their own health has worsened. More startling findings: 60 percent of caregivers are diagnosed with depression, and many others suffer from anxiety or insomnia.
Make Your Health a Priority
These statistics may seem bleak, but they do outline the importance of taking care of yourself when caring for a loved one. Put your oxygen mask on first with these simple self-care tips:
- Accept offers of help.
- Arrange a backup plan to care for your loved one if you become sick — before you need it.
- Consider in-home devices to help ensure the safety of you and your loved one.
- Eat healthy.
- Find a support group.
- Get at least 6 – 8 hours of sleep every night.
- Schedule respite care. Have a friend or family take over care duties for a few hours, an entire day or a whole week.
- Spend time on yourself. Enjoy a favorite hobby, go to church or meet up with a friend.
- Stay active. Go for a walk, join a gym or sign up for a new fitness class.
- Talk to someone – a friend, family member, spiritual advisor or therapist.
These simple tips can go a long way in helping protect your own physical, mental, and spiritual health.