Self-Care for Family Caregivers Your gift of health matters most.
By Rev Debbie Mechley
First, care for yourself
On an airplane, an oxygen mask descends in front of you. What do you do? As we all know, the first rule is to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else. Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. Caring for yourself is one of the most important—and one of the most often forgotten—things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit, too.
Effects of Caregiving on Health and Well Being
We hear this often:, “My husband is the person with Alzheimer’s, but now I’m the one in the hospital!” Such a situation is all too common. Researchers know a lot about the effects of caregiving on health and well-being. For example, if you are a caregiving spouse between the ages of 66 and 96 and are experiencing mental or emotional strain, you have a risk of dying that is 63 percent higher than that of people your age who are not caregivers. The combination of loss, prolonged stress, the physical demands of caregiving, and the biological vulnerabilities that come with age place you at risk for significant health problems as well as an earlier death. Could this be you?
Older caregivers are not the only ones who put their health and well-being at risk. If you are a baby boomer who has assumed a caregiver role for your parents while simultaneously juggling work and raising adolescent children, you face an increased risk for depression, chronic illness and a possible decline in quality of life.
But despite these risks, family caregivers of any age are less likely than no caregivers to practice preventive healthcare and self-care behavior. Regardless of age, sex, and race and ethnicity, caregivers report problems attending to their own health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities. They report:
- sleep deprivation
- poor eating habits
- failure to exercise
- failure to stay in bed when ill
- postponement of or failure to make medical appointments for themselves
Family caregivers are also at increased risk for depression and excessive use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. On the one hand, caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience. On the other hand, exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources and continuous care demands are enormously stressful. Caregivers are more likely to have a chronic illness than are non-caregivers namely high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a tendency to be overweight. Studies show that an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed.
Taking Responsibility for Your Own Care
You cannot stop the impact of a chronic or progressive illness or a debilitating injury on someone for whom you care. But there is a great deal that you can do to take responsibility for your personal well-being and to get your own needs met. Please honor yourself. Only you can.
Identifying Personal Barriers
Many times, attitudes and beliefs form personal barriers that stand in the way of caring for yourself. Not taking care of yourself may be a lifelong pattern, with taking care of others an easier option. However, as a family caregiver, you must ask yourself, “What good will I be to the person I care for if I become ill? If I die? Breaking old patterns and overcoming obstacles is not an easy proposition, but it can be done—regardless of your age or situation. The first task in removing personal barriers to self-care is to identify what is in your way.
I encourage you to seek out a support group to help you move through the difficult phases of this journey that you are on. Reach out to your Hospice Care Team, Spiritual Care and Social Services for resources and guidance. The care and all of its motions and emotions are an inevitable part of this caregiving role that you are embracing. Just because it is happening, doesn’t mean it has to be happening to you. Allow this experience to happen through you and you will find a new perspective as well as new courage and a renewed strength. Please, change the course of this experience and reach out to another for comfort and support. It’s the only way to find yourself whole when you get to the other side of the journey. It’s up to you so what will you do now?
Be well my friends and know that you are not alone. Open your heart and the way forward will open its self to you. The healing light of wellness in me greets and honors the healing light of wellness in you.
And so it is….
Rev Debbie Mechley
Spiritual Care AdvisorMinnesota Hospice