Take Five: Why Breaks Are Vital for Long-Term Caregivers

  • February 27, 2019
Take Five: Why Breaks Are Vital for Long-Term Caregivers

Life can be exhausting. There are appointments to make and keep, bills to pay, and calendar dates to juggle. Managing the day-to-day responsibilities that come along with adulthood are only made that much harder when you become a family caregiver because the added responsibilities of their appointments, bills, and calendars fall squarely on you. At times, it can feel downright overwhelming and incredibly stressful, which is exactly why you need to be taking more breaks as a caregiver.

As a concept, self-care for caregivers has been gaining traction over the last few years. Self-care for caregivers means encouraging any type of family caregiver—whether a busy new mom, a stressed out spouse, or an adult child balancing their own family and their aging parent—to stop charging ahead at 100 mph, slow down and take some time for themselves.

Don’t believe us? Consider these data-driven reasons for why self-care for caregivers is absolutely vital:

Cabin Fever Can Lead To Depression

Still, in the throes of winter, many of us can all relate to the feeling of cabin fever. But, long-term caregivers are especially susceptible to cabin fever, even when it’s bright and sunny out. With all the responsibilities and challenges associated with caregiving, it’s easy to feel a sense of isolation. Your caregiving responsibilities may detain you from quality time with family, friends and even from yourself.

In fact, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 40 to 70 percent of family caregivers experience depression as a result of isolation and loneliness. There’s only one cure for cabin fever: fresh air. Find the time in your schedule to get away from your caregiving responsibilities. As a family caregiver, it isn’t easy, but the effect it will have on your mood will be well worth it.

Caregiver Burnout Can Leave You Depleted

If you don’t take the time for self-care as a caregiver, the alternative is caregiver burnout. According to WebMD, caregiver burnout can leave you feeling symptoms such as fatigue, stress, and anxiety. Since all of these things affect your cortisol levels, you can find yourself gaining weight and developing chronic health issues as a result.

The first step in combating caregiver burnout is taking regular breaks from caregiving in order to rest and recharge your batteries. If you feel as though your loved one cannot make it through a weekend without you, consider investing in respite care services for them, or purchasing a medical alert device for their home to ensure that they are always connected to help in your absence. Once you start to pay closer attention to your own health and wellbeing, you’ll have the wherewithal to do a better job for your loved one. After all, a well-rested family caregiver is a more patient, loving, attentive caregiver.

Stress Can Impact Your Mental And Physical Health

Stress is more than just disruptive to your day—it can affect your mental and physical health as well, especially as a family caregiver. Ongoing stress has been linked to a variety of chronic issues, such as headaches, insomnia, heartburn, tense muscles and weakened immune systems. Additionally, stress can lead to high blood sugar and high blood pressure, which increase your risks of developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, respectively.

The Caregiver Action Network found that nearly 72 percent of “family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should and 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves.” When you are responsible for making sure someone you love is taking the right steps to preserve their health, it’s important that you practice what you preach for yourself. It’s just like they instruct you to do in case of emergency on an airplane: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs.

Practicing Self-Care For Caregivers

The first step in taking care of yourself as a caregiver is taking yourself out of isolation. You aren’t alone. Enlist family and friends to provide both emotional support and, on occasion, actual assistance in performing your caregiver responsibilities. A little extra company can go a long way toward recharging your emotional batteries.

You also need to schedule personal time throughout the week. Make this time non-negotiable. During the hours you put aside for yourself, pursue your passions, hobbies or favorite activities—even if those activities just involve sitting on the couch and watching your favorite shows on television.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t allow yourself to be overcome by guilt by taking personal time. You’ve earned it. Make the most of it!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hilary Young is a health and wellness expert that specializes in both senior life and caregiving. She'd love to hear more about your thoughts on aging, healthy living, and caregiving, and you can find her on Twitter at @hyoungcreative to start the conversation.

KEYWORDS: family caregiver, caregiver burnout, self-care for caregivers, caregiver advice

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