If you have ever acted as a caregiver for a loved one, you may know that the journey is often filled with both highs and lows. Along with the feelings of affection and support, there is also a sense of stress and added responsibility that can take its toll on a person’s physical and emotional health.
Caregiving, like many other high-stress occupations, can only be done well if the caregiver is physically able and emotionally prepared to take on the task at hand. For this reason, it is important to examine how caregivers can prioritize self-care and retain the balance between their needs and the needs of others.
Focus on physical health
Providing care can be a physically demanding task. Whether you’re assisting a loved one with their personal needs, helping with mobility, or even driving to appointments, your body is being tasked with taking on extra stress that can chip away at your stamina and leave you feeling exhausted. For those in a caregiving position, prioritizing physical well-being and keeping yourself healthy is just as important as the care you give others.
Although it’s crucial to maintain a healthy body through exercise, physical well-being also includes a spectrum of other activities that can have a positive impact on your overall health. After discussing an appropriate exercise regimen with your doctor, consider the following as important steps you can take to put your own body’s needs front and center:
- Set aside time for adequate rest. Aim for at least 7–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night
- Eat a balanced diet that includes a rich variety of vegetables, fruits, and protein
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, particularly when you are engaging in physical activity
- Reduce the use of alcohol and tobacco
- Schedule regular checkups with your health care provider so you can keep track of your personal health and wellness
Keep an eye on your emotional well-being
Just as our bodies show signs of physical stress, the mind can also provide clues as to when we are feeling overwhelmed or fatigued. For caregivers, the emotional load of being responsible for another person can take a unique toll and may contribute to feelings of isolation, loneliness, or depression. Fighting the effects of emotional exhaustion is an important task for overall health that can begin with taking time to focus on what makes us happy and keeps us feeling fulfilled in our role.
When it comes to emotional self-care, putting your personal needs first can start by sharpening your sense of gratitude and resilience. Finding what brings you joy and why can help combat negative feelings and leave you with more bandwidth to tackle the challenges that present themselves in our daily lives. For caregivers, activities that can help support emotional self-care include:
- Practicing mindfulness through meditation or active listening
- Finding hobbies that stretch your creative muscles or allow you to unwind
- Setting boundaries and learning the importance of saying “no”
- Being compassionate to yourself and learning to let go of mistakes and negative thoughts
Ask for help when you need it
Although caregiving is often seen as a selfless task, the reality is that it often takes more than one person to accomplish successfully. If you are a caregiver who is facing a laundry list of responsibilities, one of the greatest acts of self-care you can accomplish is reaching out and asking for help when you need it.
Feelings of guilt and reluctance are natural, but it is important to remember that needing assistance is not a sign of weakness. Family, friends, and medical professionals are great resources you can use when you are feeling overwhelmed and could provide support and help on your caregiving journey. If you are searching for additional resources that can help caregivers and those they support, visit uhc.com/caregiving.