The stress of caregiving induces intense feelings of being overwhelmed, loneliness, isolation and a feeling of being deserted by others. The stress may manifest by sleeping too much or too little, gaining or losing weight, chronic exhaustion, losing interest in things that you normally enjoy and getting easily irritated or angered or feeling worried or sad. You may have headaches or body aches often.
While some may argue that these symptoms are within your control, that they are perception based, there are diagnosable, measurable health problems that accompany caregiving. Depression and anxiety are common among caregivers and they can contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke. Caregivers frequently have weaker immune systems which may manifest by longer recovery times from colds or the flu. The longer the flu hangs onto you, the more likely you are to develop complications. An estimated 80,000 people died from flu and it’s complications in 2017. A weakened immune sysytem can be deadly. Obesity is common among caregivers and obesity increases your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes as well as many other health problems. Without a doubt, caregivers are at a greater risk for developing short-term memory problems and problems with focus. This can lead to a multitude of woes including accidents.
Caregiving Yourself First
Take care to take care of yourself when you find yourself being a caregiver. Take full advantage of any classes or home health care offered by hospitals or government agencies and lighten your load. There are sometimes adult daycare facilities that can give you a much needed break.
Make a list of ways that others can help you and if someone offers help, be quick to give them an assignment. There are support groups for almost all illnesses, that offer caregiver assistance. Find those groups and get involved to reap any benefits that they may have to offer.
Get organized. Chaos is stress-inducing. Make lists and set up a daily routine. Make sure to include time for yourself to take care of you in your scheduling. Do the things that you once enjoyed. Plan your meals and get enough sleep. Work out with your doctor’s permission. A good workout does wonders for stress. When you visit your doctor make sure to tell him that you are a caregiver and about any problems that you are having. You might consider taking advantage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act which, if you are eligible, ensures that you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave of absence to care for relatives.
I strongly encourage you to give up added sugars and other simple carbohydrates. A little sugar makes you crave more sugar and all those empty calories will pack on the pounds and take your appetite away for healthy, whole foods which are your best source of good nutrition.
As always, we encourage you to make your world small. Cut out negative people and events that rob your time and make you feel bad. Surround yourself with positivity and focus on the things that make your life better. I frequently say that “Lifting (weights) is my life.” That’s true. Choose what you love. Do it and do it to the best of your ability. Learn it. Live it. It will give you a much needed mental break. If someone or something makes you feel bad, don’t go around them. Why would you? Life’s too short for drama. If the person that you’re caregiving works against your best efforts to help them, let it be. There’s an old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, and that’s true. After you have done all you can, if you see the patient working against himself, don’t stress over it. It’s his choice. You have done your part. Don’t be a martyr by stressing yourself into a heart attack trying to force someone to be healthy that is bound and determined to do otherwise.
I am a caregiver to an adult with autism and have been a caregiver to my elderly grandmother who is gone now. Although Maw Maw was a wonderfully selfless person for most of her life, when she became dependent on others, that changed. She made every effort to commandeer my time, including having me cancel my own doctor’s appointments. I had a few then because it was before I came to David’s Way and was able to lose fat and come off of all medications. Don’t let your loved ones do this to you. Stand up for yourself and tend to your needs first. You can’t help them if you’re dead. During that time, my weight soared and my blood pressure spiraled out of control. After coming to David’s Way, I realized exactly where I had gone wrong. I did not caregive myself first. I was an avid swimmer at the beginning of that time with her and I had abandoned the pool. My misery knew no end until I made up my mind to regain what was fast becoming my lost health. Now, I work three jobs, take no medications, pursue extreme health and fitness with a fury and make no apologies for taking care of myself. People all around me are dropping dead and developing serious health problems while I carry on with life as usual. I use the most powerful tool in the world to be fit and healthy, the choices that I make every day.
I challenge you to do the same and pursue health with a passion.