They say there is no rest for the wicked. This can also be said of the incredibly good. Caregiver stress, a condition that the US Department of Health & Human Services describes as having “harmful health effects” affects men and women who provide care for others, including aging parents.
What is a caregiver?
A caregiver is, as the title suggests, one who provides care. While a number of caregivers in the United States are paid, formal health care workers, here, we will focus on informal, or family, caregivers. More than 5 million adults with dementia or other cognitive disorder require help with everything from eating and watching television to basic hygiene. That means someone must be available 24 hours a day to ensure these needs are met. 31% of all informal senior caregivers are adult daughters – an equal number are surviving spouses, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Signs and symptoms
Caregiver stress does not take a single form. It may come and go as moments of frustration and anger followed by a sense of helplessness and grief for the way things used to be. Caregivers under constant stress often make bad lifestyle choices, such as smoking and using alcohol or illegal drugs to simply get through the day. Other symptoms include:
- Constant headaches and body aches
- Feeling sad or worried more often than usual
- Becoming needlessly irritated or angered without provocation
- Loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities
- Weight gain/weight loss
- Change in sleeping pattern
- Feelings of loneliness and desertion
Left unchecked, long-term stress can lead to a host of physical and mental health conditions including depression, weakened immunity, obesity, cognitive impairment, stroke, arthritis, cancer, and diabetes. For these reasons, caregivers must learn to make their own wellness a priority each and every day.
Caregiver schedules are often full from morning until night. However, there are a few ways to squeeze out a few healthy habits that will have a positive and long-lasting effect. Here are a few simple ways to manage or prevent caregiver stress:
Read a book. Reading is one of the few ways to enjoy an amazing adventure without having to leave the comfort of your favorite chair. And it’s always a great way to give yourself a quick mental health boost.
Accept help when offered. It’s very easy to get into the habit of simply taking care of things on your own and believing you’re the only one who won’t make a mistake with medicine or other pieces of your loved ones care. However, don’t deny friends and family the opportunity to play a part. Accept help, even if it’s for something simple, such as grocery shopping or preparing a meal. If help isn’t available, consider hiring a respite caregiver once a week.
Take a walk. 30 minutes each day is all it takes to improve your overall mood, jumpstart your creativity, and slash your chances of developing a chronic disease. Prevention magazine claims the benefits of walking (in addition to helping you lose weight) extend to your midsection by improving gastric mobility, meaning you’ll be more regular.
Go outside. If you can’t spare half an hour at once, try to go outside a few times a day for at least 10 minutes. Studies have shown that sunshine – or more specifically the vitamin D your body produces as a reaction to the sun – may help stave off depression. The National Institutes of Health recently published a paper suggesting exposure to sunshine may be a cost-effective therapy to improve people’s overall quality of life.
Don’t feel guilty for needing to attend to your own health and well-being. Your loved one, and those around you, will understand. Your priority may be your aging parent, but you can’t provide care if you wind up prematurely needing care yourself.
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