Helping caregivers care for themselves
Rosalyn Carter said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.”
Family caregivers experience significant stress due to caregiving’s emotional and physical challenges. Caregivers have higher levels of stress than people who are not caregivers. They often report that it is challenging to take care of themselves. Many caregivers report a lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise. They also say that they often provide care when they are sick. They are at a greater risk of depression and a greater risk to abuse alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. These are just a few risk factors faced by caregivers.
Caregivers report facing barriers to self-care. Personal attitudes and beliefs can get in the way of caregivers caring for themselves. Many people believe they are being selfish and that the person they care for is the one that needs care, not themselves. They may feel like they are not a good caregiver if they ask for help or feel they can only care for Dad properly. However, caregivers who fail to care for themselves set themselves up for becoming ill and unable to care for the person they are trying to help.
It is essential to recognize the early signs warning signs of stress. For instance, you may feel frustrated and angry one minute and helpless the next. You may make mistakes when dosing medications or turn to unhealthy behaviors like drinking too much alcohol or smoking. We are all different, so it is vital to know your stress symptoms and take care of them before they become a health issue.
To manage your stress, consider what kind of stress is affecting you. If your stress is physical, like high blood pressure, digestive problems, headaches or pacing, try physical relaxation activities like walking, swimming, gardening, or a massage. Or suppose your stress is mental, like worrying or having difficulty concentrating. Try mental relaxation, like listening to soothing music or reading for pleasure. You may need to use a combination of physical and mental relaxation techniques. Remember, there are some things you can’t change.
Being a family caregiver can be challenging and rewarding; during the holidays, there is more pressure on the caregiver to maintain and continue family traditions. The holidays can often be a wonderful and joyous time. Still, for many people facing illness or the illness of a loved one, the holidays can be stressful and even depressing.
With the approaching holiday season, don’t be afraid to choose to do less with holiday preparations. Be choosy about which activities to participate in and what decorations to put up. Try to keep things simple. You might ask family and friends to help with a potluck-style meal instead of trying to do everything yourself. Get a prepared meal from a local restaurant or your local grocery store. Encourage friends and family members to visit, but keep the visit brief.
As a caregiver, don’t think that you have to do all the caregiving all the time. Ask for and accept help from others. If someone tells you, “Let me know if you need my help,” give them something to do. You can say, “Yes, can you sit with Dad for a few minutes while I take a brisk walk.”
And don’t be so hard on yourself; know that you are doing your best under challenging circumstances.
The Meadowlark Extension District will offer a class for family caregivers starting Jan. 11, 2024, at 1615 Branch, Seneca, KS 66538, at 1:30 p.m. The “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” series will focus on taking care of yourself while caring for others. You become a better caregiver by caring for your own health and well-being. The classes will be held once a week for six weeks and are led by experienced class leaders. Class participants receive The Caregiver Helpbook to accompany the class and provide additional caregiver resources. We will meet for six weeks. Space in the class is limited.
For more information, contact Teresa Hatfield at the Meadowlark Extension Office at 785-364-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community resources are available for caregivers:
Northeast Area Agency on Aging: 785-742-7152 or 1-800-883-2549 (Jackson and Nemaha counties)
Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging: 785-235-1367 or 1-800-798-1366
VA Caregiver Support Line: 855-260-3274