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Self-care/Stress-management for Caregivers

Caring for the Caregiver

Are you a caregiver? Maintaining good health and self-care is essential to your role as a caregiver. 

Caring for a family member or friend who has a disability or a chronic illness can be rewarding. But it’s also demanding. Research shows family members who provide care to individuals with chronic or disabling conditions are themselves at risk. Emotional, mental, and physical health problems arise from complex caregiving situations and the strains of caring for frail or disabled relatives. Did you know over one-third of caregivers continue to provide intense care to others while suffering from poor health themselves? Often, an influential factor in a caregiver’s decision to place an impaired relative in a long-term care facility is the family caregiver’s own physical health.

Topic Quick Links – Click on a topic below to go to that area of the page.

The Impact of Providing Care

Studies have shown that the impact of providing care can lead to increased health care needs for the caregiver.

Did you know, caregivers…

And female caregivers…

Caregiver Stress Check

 Do you regularly……

Feel like you have to do it all yourself and that you should be doing more?    ___Yes ___No

Withdraw from family, friends, and activities that you used to enjoy?            ___Yes ___No

Worry about the safety of the person care for?                                               ___Yes ___No

Feel anxious about money and health care-related decisions?                        ___Yes ___No

Deny the impact of the disease and its effects on your family?                       ___Yes ___No

Feel grief or sadness that your relationship with the person isn’t

It used to be?                                                                                                    ___Yes ___No

Feel frustrated or angry when the person continually repeats things and

Doesn’t seem to listen?                                                                                  ___Yes ___No

Experience health problems that are taking a physical or mental toll?        ___Yes ___No

If you answered “yes” to any question, you may be experiencing caregiver stress. Identifying this stress is the first important step so that you can work toward managing your own health.

Stress Management for Caregivers

One key to being a successful caregiver is to manage stress by seeking support and taking care of yourself. Managing stress is especially important for a caregiver, because stress can weaken his/her immune system and a weak immune system makes the caregiver more likely to get sick.

Here are several practical stress management tips:

Top 10 ways to manage your time and your stress

10. Get rid of unnecessary stuff ‘chunk the junk’
9. Be realistic
8. Prioritize
7. Decide
6. Rid yourself of as many interruptions as possible
5. Ask for help
4. Make lists and do what is written on them
3. Plan “if you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else”
2. KISS-keep it simple and sane

And the #1 tip…
1. Take one day at a time

Here is another way to look at the cost of not managing caregiver stress, as quoted in a blog written for our program by Sue Wallace, CSA [9] in 2013. A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked:

How heavy is this glass of water? Answers called out ranging from 20g to 500g. The lecturer replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” The lecturer continued, “And that’s the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, eventually, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on. As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden. So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don’t carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you’re carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can.

Read the complete essay here.  [10]

Caregiver Health – Nutrition

Self-evaluate your nutrition by asking yourself a few questions:

Caregiver Health – Exercise

Since many caregivers have little spare time for themselves, when they finally get a break, they are probably craving rest, rather than thinking of exercise. Yet, of the two, exercise could be a far better choice. It may prevent you from getting sick, help you sleep better and is almost certain to give you more energy — three things of prime importance to a caregiver. En español  [12]

Exercise Ideas for Caregivers:

Talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Caregiver Health – Emotional life

Loneliness is common in family caregivers. The following link will take you to several essays on coping with loneliness from the National Council on Aging “Social Isolation & Loneliness for Caregivers [13]

Also check out the Caregiver Teleconnection recording “Isolation & loneliness: What is the difference and what to do about both” [14] by Andy B. Crocker.

Here are several day-to-day habits to keep your emotional state healthy while caregiving: 

Time Management for Caregivers 

As a caregiver, you become accustomed to putting others first and it’s easy to let other obligations and priorities slide. By learning and practicing time management skills you can get the most out of your time. Here are some tips to get you started:

The Phone

Is your phone stealing your time? Do you have to answer your phone every time it rings? Do you have to “jump” every time you recieve a text or an email? No! You are not obligated to read texts or emails immediately just because someone is writing to you. Set aside uninterrupted time during which you do not look at your phone. Suggest specific times for people to call you and only check your phone at certain times of the day, for example, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. 

Record keeping

Having an organized system for keeping records not only saves time but also reduces stress. Set up a caregiver record keeping system that fits your style. You might try the following:

You can organize folders by days of the month, months of the year, by what is pending, by project, or any other customized solution that fits your needs. Consider color coding according to categories and label by groups. 

Resources for Caregivers

Use resources such as Area Agency on Aging [15] (AAA). Types of assistance provided by AAAs:

Assistance available through AAAs for persons age 60 and older may include:

Be sure to check out our Resource Directory [16], FAQ [17], and Educational Events Calendar [18] for more great information! Permission is granted to duplicate any and all parts of this page to use in education programs supporting family members caring for elders. 

References: Includes materials adapted from Caregiver education modules, Family Caregiver Alliance “Caregiver Health [19]“, and AARP “Exercising When Your’re Caring for Someone Else [20]“. 

Revised January 2022

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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