Caring for the Caregiver: 7 Ways to Get Help and Improve Your Health

Caregiving is emotionally and physically draining. It’s easy for caregivers to neglect their needs given the numerous responsibilities they are tasked with.

Burnout  Diet  Sleep  Log  Ritual  Break  Exercise  Support

What is Burnout?

If you don’t give your body time to rest and relax, it’s easy to get a burnout which is a condition that leads to:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Weight gain
  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lack of interest in regular activities
  • Weak immune system
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts

Caregiver burnout is an excellent indicator of how repeated exposure to stress affects physical and mental health. The body has a natural way of combating stress. It has a counter-stress system called the relaxation response that is regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system.

Caregivers can activate this system by performing mind-body exercises like meditation, yoga, deep relaxation techniques, chi, and tai just to mention a few. Let's explore other self-care techniques caregivers can use to improve their health.

Eat a Healthy Diet

It’s easy to forget to eat when attending to a patient's needs. Taking in a well-balanced diet at the right time not only improves your physical, but emotional health. It’s not about eating snacks or small bites of chips, but rather foods that are nutritious and fulfilling.

A recent study found that following a Mediterranean diet (one that contains rich in fruits, nuts, legumes, vegetables, fish, cereals, and unsaturated fats) supplemented with fish oil reduced depression among participants. A systematic review performed in 2014 found that a poor diet (comprised of refined carbohydrates, high levels of saturated fats, and processed foods) is associated with poor mental health.

The studies emphasize the need to follow a well-balanced diet. Studies also show that caregivers are more likely to develop clinical depression. Another review conducted in 2010 found a two-way association between obesity and depression. They found that obese people were 55% more likely to develop depression and people who have depression had a 58% chance of becoming obese.

Prioritize Quality Sleep

Sleep deprivation affects one’s mental health and has a ripple effect on one’s emotions. Caregivers taking care of dementia patients particularly find it challenging to get uninterrupted rest. A study found that 92% of dementia caregivers experience poor sleep quality, evident by long sleep-onset latency, short total sleep time, and frequent awakenings.

Sleep-deprived people find it challenging to focus and experience reduced reaction times, which can be detrimental to patients. Research shows health care professionals who are sleep deprived are more likely to make on-the-job errors, which puts patient safety at risk.

The body needs seven to eight hours of sleep to heal and relax. A caregiver should make a predictable and regular bedtime routine that coaxes the body into falling asleep. Adequate sleep helps:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Reduce unhealthy food cravings
  • Minimize the chances of developing depression
  • Improve the health of the immune system
  • Reduces anxiety

Create a Self-care Log

Caregivers quickly ease into routines already established into an institution. While it helps them attend to their duties promptly, it is crucial to create a self-care log. The tool summarizes various components of a self-care regimen which allows you to monitor changes that affect your well-being. Here are essential items to include:

  • Meals for the day
  • Time for physical activity
  • Daily goals
  • Sleep
  • A recap for the day
  • Goals for the following day

Establish a Morning and Evening Ritual

Having a morning and evening ritual is critical to relieving stress, boosting your mood and having a positive perspective of life. Take 10 minutes in the morning to tend to your mental, physical and spiritual wellness.

An evening ritual, on the other hand, helps your mind transition to sleep mode, especially if you have been extremely busy. Avoid using electronics to help the brain transition into a state of rest. Some activities to help you develop a morning and evening routine include:

  • Meditation: early morning meditation is particularly useful because the entrance to the subconscious is open. Use affirmations or mantras. Your subconscious will work to make those affirmations a reality.
  • Stretching: Melatonin levels are reduced in the morning and cortisol levels are increased to help you wake up. Stretching helps maintain this cycle keeping you energized throughout the day.
  • Conscious breathing: At night is the time to release the pent up tension and conscious breathing helps achieve this.
  • Conscious consumption: During the first hour of waking up, the brain is pretty sensitive to what it consumes due to the heightened melatonin levels. As such, it is an excellent time to set an intention for the day, what you want to achieve, or what you want to feel. It is essential to feed the brain with something you can benefit from. Podcasts and motivational songs are an excellent start.

Take a Break

Caregivers often offer to volunteer to stay late or work during the weekends, which later turns to permanent shifts. That’s why they often have a 60-hour instead of a 40-hour week. If you have been postponing that one-month break, now may be an excellent time to take it. You don’t have to go for a hiatus for weeks, but you can schedule regular breaks to help the body recharge. Some ways to do this include:

  • Using all of your vacation days
  • Leaving work at the scheduled time
  • Treating yourself to a long weekend once a month
  • Taking weekends off

Exercise Regularly

Exercise increases alertness, promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression. Finding the time to exercise can be challenging at the beginning, but it starts with small steps. You can begin by taking a twenty-minute walk or working out three days a week to enjoy all the benefits of exercise.

Join a Support Group

Caregiver support groups provide much needed social support. Members validate each others’ experiences, which helps you understand what you are going through is normal. A support group is also an excellent platform for members to ask for advice, vent their frustrations, and find out about useful resources. Hospitals and local organizations offer caregiver support groups for caregivers.

Jayne Byrne, Project Coordinator at a nursing home in Dublin comments that “Caregiving is a challenging job. Most of the time, caregivers set aside their personal needs to help their patients.” These above mentioned tips should help you keep healthy and productive at work. You shouldn’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself.

Thank you Holly Clark for contributing this article.

Guest Articles Written for Caregiverology

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