Most of us will be caregivers at some point during our lives. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that over one-third of Americans provide unpaid care to another adult with an illness or disability each year.
Most of these caregivers are women and most have paid jobs in addition to their caregiving.
If you provide unpaid care for another person in need — a child, an aging parent, a husband or wife, relative, friend or neighbor — you are a “family” or “informal” caregiver. In many cases, you are caring for a loved one who is ill, injured or disabled. You may be managing their everyday needs, including bathing, eating, giving medicines, and making health or financial decisions.
Caregiving can be very rewarding work. It feels good to be able to help a loved one and spend time together. But the emotional and physical strain of caregiving can be stressful.
Unless caregivers get help managing stress, they may suffer from depression or anxiety. Caregivers often feel overwhelmed. They may feel alone, isolated or deserted by others. They may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy. The stress and anxiety of caregiving can lead to fatigue, irritability, worry or sadness. Sometimes weight gain or loss, headaches and body aches affect caregivers who do not get help managing stress.
Here are some recommendations for managing the stress of caregiving provided by the Office of Women’s Health:
▪ Ask for and accept help. Make a list of ways others can help you. Let helpers choose what they would like to do. For instance, someone might sit with the person you care for while you do an errand. Someone else might pick up groceries for you.
▪ Take time for yourself. Stay in touch with family and friends, and do things you enjoy with your loved ones.
▪ Take care of your health. Find time to be physically active on most days of the week. Choose healthy foods. Get enough sleep.
▪ See your doctor for regular checkups. Make sure to tell your doctor or nurse you are a caregiver, and share any symptoms of depression or anxiety you may be feeling.
The Lewis Mason Thurston Area Agency on Aging offers a “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” class several times a year. During the six-week course, you will develop a self-care “tool box” filled with techniques and strategies to help you recognize and reduce your stress, change negative self-talk to positive self-talk, and improve your communication and relationships with family, friends and professionals.
The class also includes strategies to help you enlist the help of others and to make difficult caregiving decisions. People who attend report learning dozens of new ways to improve their quality of life and health.
I recommend this course to all the caregivers in the community. Call 360-664-2168, ext. 102, for information about the next “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” class. There are also a number of caregiver support groups offered throughout our area.
If you are a caregiver, please know that your contribution to the health of your loved one is priceless. But to continue to provide the best care possible, be sure to take good care of yourself and ask for help when you need it.
And remember, there are resources in our community that can help you.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.