Caring For The Caregiver

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Caring For The Caregiver

I received a message from a good friend and fellow blogger yesterday, who is really struggling with a multitude of personal demands placed on her. This got me thinking, when does caring for the caregiver begin? She’s feeling completely stretched to her limits and overwhelmed by everything that is happening. She said to me ‘Larry, I’m very frustrated with my role of caregiver.’

Having spent a few days with my parents I can understand exactly what she’s going through. My mother suffers from dementia, and my sister is in the role of caregiver. Dealing with dementia symptoms in your own parent can stretch the limits of your sanity. My own mom. Who once had been a highly organized and extremely independent woman, working with science and mathematics. Who read constantly, was a keen antique collector and a great cook. She was a brilliant woman who now has lost it all through dementia.

She now is more like a young child who is very demanding and needy. Between my sister and father they’re stretched to the limits by her constant demands.

Professionally I find this all remarkable that it is touching my life in this way. Was it really only five years ago that I stood in front of a room packed full of carers talking to them about the best way to get to grips with stress. After a few years of doing this on a regular basis, meeting many fantastic giving people, I felt the need to move on in a different direction. But now I feel the calling to once again offer my knowledge and coaching skills to these selfless people.

To any caregivers reading this today, one thing I want you to accept is that it’s not selfish to make time to focus on your own needs and desires, it’s a crucial part of the job you’re doing. It’s imperative that you take responsibility for your own self-care.

You have to:

  • Learn and use stress-reduction techniques.
  • Attend to your own healthcare needs.
  • Get proper rest and nutrition.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take time off without feeling guilty.
  • Participate in pleasant, nurturing activities.
  • Seek and accept the support of others.
  • Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Change the negative ways you view situations.
  • Set inspiring goals for yourself, no matter where you feel your life is right now.
  • Don’t allow yourself to place your life on hold a minute longer

There is no getting away from the fact that being a caregiver is a stressful and demanding job. Your role is to help someone, often a person you love, who is suffering and responding to their every need and putting the focus entirely on them. This takes a huge toll on a your emotions. It’s only human for this to cause a great deal of stress.

In fact there is a lot of evidence to demonstrate that Caregivers are susceptible to depression, illness, physical exhaustion and emotional exhaustion. Any of these conditions will easily interfere with a person’s ability to be an effective caregiver. So if things are allowed to get out of hand, everybody will suffer.

A substantial body of research shows that family members who provide care to individuals with chronic or disabling conditions are themselves at risk. Emotional, mental, and physical health problems arise from complex caregiving situations and the strains of caring for frail or disabled relatives.

Caregivers give their time, energy, and emotions – to someone who is suffering. So taking care of yourself is the most important step you can do for yourself. You have to take charge of your life. Don’t let your loved one’s illness or disability always take center stage at the expense of your own health.

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.

“What good will you be to the person you care for if you become ill?”

Here are a few tip for you for starters:

Practice daily exercise

Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and attentiveness. Find activities you enjoy. Walking, one of the best and easiest exercises, is a great way to get started. Besides its physical benefits, walking helps to reduce psychological tension. Walking 30 minutes a day, three times a week, is very beneficial. Even if you can only do it in 3 – 10 minute slots you’ll feel the benefit.

Eat nutritious meals and snacks

No more poor eating habits—eating too much or too little, snacking on junk food, skipping meals and so on. You need to eat healthily, 6 balanced small meals daily, with complex carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, and protein. You must also ensure you drink at least 2 litres of water. No binge eating and no picking up those simple carbohydrates like chocolate or cakes which you eat for comfort, but not for energy.

Get adequate sleep

A chronic lack of sleep, will end up with you suffering exhaustion, fatigue, and low energy levels. Depleted physical energy in turn affects our emotional outlook, increasing negative feelings such as irritability, sadness, anger, pessimism, and stress. Ideally, most people need six to eight hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. When caregiving you need to ensure you are getting adequate sleep so as to assure you are at your best when you need to be.

Take time for yourself

Recreation is not a luxury; it is a necessary time to “re-create”—to renew yourself. At least once a week for a few hours at a time, you need time just for yourself—to read a book, go out to lunch with a friend, or go for a walk. This is ‘You’ time something absolutely essential to get to grips with stress. Your every minute is spent thinking and running around another, so finding this time for yourself will help you dramatically.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

It’s absolutely normal for people to experience stress in this day and age at the best of times. But caring for somebody will often mean that you’re placed under a significant amount of stress on a regular basis. So while there are probably many times during the week when you can feel your stress levels rising — if you find yourself feeling close to breaking point much of the time, then it will not only have an impact on your own health but there will also be consequences for the person you’re caring for. So you have to do something about it. Taking up a relaxation technique will assist you massively.

For example, Find a comfortable place to sit and spend a couple of minutes focussing on breathing deeply. While you sit, concentrate your thoughts on any part of your body which feels tense or cramped and with each breath out, try and release the tension in your body. Roll your shoulders upwards and backwards, gently sliding your shoulder blades down your back. Keep your chest high and head facing forwards, stay relaxed and continue to breathe deeply for five minutes.

Keep an eye on yourself

You need to recognize the warning signs early, such as irritability, sleep problems, and forgetfulness. Once you spot them you can then start to make changes, but don’t wait until you are completely overwhelmed. You have to ask yourself the question “What is causing stress for me?”

The sources of stress may include having too much to do, family disagreements, feelings of inadequacy, inability to say no. Identify the things you can and cannot change. Remember, we can only change ourselves; we cannot change another person. When you try to change things over which you have no control, you will only increase your sense of frustration.

Never, I say again never feel guilty about doing these things for you. By taking care of yourself, you’re ensuring you can give your best to the person you are caring for.

I would be happy to once again run my workshops “Caring for the Caregiver” online through my webinar room totally free of charge if there is an interest. If this is something you’d like more information about, or you’d like to show interest by putting your name down please contact me.

Caregivers lives can be far more stressful than other people’s, often they’re feeling stressed all the time, and this can lead to major health problems. Start protecting yourself by learning how to recognise the signs and symptoms of stress and take practical steps to help manage your stress levels and reduce its’ harmful effects.

 

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About the author: Larry Lewis
My name is Larry Lewis, Health & Wellness Life Coach, Founder of Healthy Lifestyles Living, contributor to the Huffington Post, recently featured in the Sunday Mail Newspaper and somebody who went from being an owner of a chain of gyms and fitness fanatic, to a visually impaired overweight and incredibly sick person. Read about my illness to wellness story.
3 Comments
  1. Su Lewis September 26, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Just wanted to thank you for a great, insightful article. Many people simply do not understand the stress and emotional exhaustion that affects so many of us.

    I would like to add that any carers who are not members of their local carers organisation (www.carersuk.org) should join as soon as possible. My local carers centre has various and regular different types of pampering sessions which are great to help carers relax and rewind. They include Indian Head Massage, Aromatherapy Massage and manicures. All of which have no charge! Also, they have people available to talk to when you have a problem or just want to talk to someone who will listen and understand. I couldn’t have coped over the past few years without the help of the Newcastle Carers’ Centre.

  2. Judy A Murphy September 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Larry and Family,
    Being a care giver is a very special job, and not one that everyone can do. The lack of sleep, the stress, and most of all watching your love one, leave you before death, is unbelievably gut wrenching.
    The absence of your loved ones true self can be seen in the eyes of the whole household and family.
    For the care giver this can be very hard because in a sense they feel like everything is tumbling in on the whole family and their hands are completely tied.
    I watched my husband hurt quietly, he could not talk about his feelings, watching his Mom slowly deteriorate right before him, and not being able to do anything to change what was inevitable, was eating him alive.
    My sons tried to keep away more and more, my daughter being young felt our time was being robbed and nothing seemed the same as it was before Grandma got sick.
    We do what we can and hope it matters, until we can’t do it any longer.
    There comes a time when professionals have to take over, until then you have a big job on your hands and at the end of the day, you can know everything was done for your Mom that could be done.
    Sue, your Dad and Brother will forever remember and be grateful for all you have done to help your Mom. I believe somehow she realizes the difference between a stranger and a daughters care. Keep your chin up and take care of yourself as much as possible. My prayers are with you all. Take Care!!!!

  3. Mary Hudak-Collins September 27, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Taking care of loved ones, or even assisting to help dear friends with the care of their family members is a big strain. I cared for my mother for as long as I could while she was sick with heart issues and then when she died, I was miles away working. I carry that guilt with me every day, wondering if things would have been different if I had stayed at home. A question that will never be answered and I live with that. Now, most recently, I have found myself taking care of my father after heart and kidney failure. With a new diet on board I am all turned around. I have been doing things pretty much the same way, as far as diet goes, since Michaela was diagnosed. Now, I’m jumbled up. I feel as though I have been on a $2000.00 a month budget for 3 years and all of a sudden I was dropped to $500.00. I’m scrambling to get my mind wrapped around all of this and incorporate it into my already crazy schedule. New doctor’s appointments and him not being allowed to drive leaves him very dependent on me. I am still in the first week since he has been home and I am already feeling the pressure of stress. I am extremely tired by the end of the evening that I barely make it to my pillow! What I don’t want to happen is negativity creeping in. I truly believe in the family component and my parents have always been there for me, way into my married years. Now, my help is required and I intend to be there no matter what! On the other hand, there is a lot of new developments in my life that also need to be tended to. My career path is changing and the next couple of months, I feel, are crucial to it’s success. I need to desperately learn how to balance between all of the responsibilities, staying healthy at the same time. I plan to re-visit your list of recommendations Larry. I appreciate you sharing this post today ☺

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