According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, caregivers of any age “face an increased risk for depression, chronic illness, and a possible decline in quality of life.” The same organization reports that “regardless of age, sex, and race and ethnicity, caregivers report problems attending to their own health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities.” These problems include sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, failure to exercise, failure to rest when ill and failure to make medical appointments for themselves when needed. Why are these issues so common among caregivers? Most of them can be attributed to the combination of loss, prolonged stress and physical demands that come with caregiving.
Caregiving is no easy job, but there are practical things you can do to make it easier to maintain your physical health and your emotional well-being as you traverse this difficult journey. Here are my top suggestions to help you stay healthy and happy along the way:
Regular exercise offers a plethora of benefits, including increased strength and flexibility, improved feelings of happiness, boosted energy levels, better sleep at night and increased longevity. (Find out more about these benefits by reading the article The Many Benefits of Regular Exercise.) Regular exercise will also decrease your risk of developing a number of serious health issues, including high blood pressure, stroke, depression, heart disease, as well as breast, colon and uterine cancer.
It may sound overwhelming, but when it comes to regular exercise, even a little goes a long way. Shoot for 20 minutes of exercise, three times a week. You don’t need to go to a gym or even leave your house. Walk up and down steps, look up a low impact exercise routine video on YouTube or social media, or jog in place. Any such exercise will get your blood flowing and help your body stay strong and healthy. If you can get out for brief intervals, try taking a walk once a day, you’ll benefit doubly from the exercise and a good dose of fresh air.
Give Priority to Your Physical Health
In order to be an effective caregiver, you’ll need to be in tip-top shape, so don’t feel guilty about taking time to care for yourself. In the long run, the time you spend on staying healthy will mean better care and attention for those you care for. This might mean paying closer attention to your diet. As we mentioned at the outset, many caregivers report poor diet to be a serious problem they struggle with. The key to eating healthy? Remember these two main principles:
- Refined carbohydrates and sugars cause your body to experience highs and lows in blood sugar. They also cause inflammation in your body, mood swings, feelings of nervousness and can alter your energy levels. And you guessed it, each one of these results can cause you to experience anxiety and many other serious health issues.
- On the other hand, an anti-inflammatory diet can be a natural remedy for anxiety. Anti-inflammatory foods can help your neurotransmitter function properly, balance your mood and stress response and help reduce your risk of developing a serious illness. For a top-notch anti-inflammatory diet, focus on eating fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, free-range or wild caught, organic meats and seafood, unrefined carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Diet can go a long way towards helping you feel your best, even when your under quite a bit of stress, but there is another aspect of your physical health you should not neglect. If you feel unwell, make an appointment with your doctor (and keep it!). If your family member or friend needs 24-our care, reach out to other family members or friends and ask them if they could cover for you for a few hours. If this isn’t an option, get in touch with home health agencies in your area that offer respite care. If you want to continue caring for your loved one long-term, caring for your own health is non-negotiable.
Maintain Your Personal Interests
When you began caring for your loved one, your personal interests may have gotten put on hold. However, it’s important to take time to do the things you enjoy. If your life revolves solely around caretaking, it is easy to begin feeling depressed or stressed, which will decrease your efficacy as a caretaker.
You may need to ask for help in order to set aside a few hours each week to do something you enjoy, but the emotional refreshment you’ll feel will be well worth the effort.
Practice Safe Lifting Techniques
Each year, many caregivers report lifting injuries that make it difficult or even impossible for them to care for their loved one. As a caretaker, it is vital you take safe lifting seriously. Always keep your head and neck aligned as you lift with your legs to avoid injury. And if you need to, wear a lifting belt when helping your relative move from one place to another. When in doubt, don’t go at it alone. Always ask for help if you don’t think you can move the person safely.
Get Regular Adjustments
Regular atlas orthogonal adjustments will help you maintain optimal health. With a properly aligned spine, tight or achy muscles that have been put under strain due to misalignment can relax, reducing back and neck pain. In addition, any body functions that have been compromised due to restricted nerve flow will be restored, allowing your body to heal and self-regulate just like it’s designed to. The end result of regular chiropractic adjustments is optimal health, something all caretakers need.
Without a doubt, all caretakers deserve sincere commendation for their hard work and devotion. If you are a caretaker, keep these five tips in mind as you care for your friend or family member. They will help you to stay healthy and happy, which is just what you need in order to give your loved one the best possible care.
For more information and suggestions on how to stay healthy and happy as a caretaker, see the article Self Care Guide for Family Caregivers, created by the Family Caregiver Alliance