Putting yourself first can help you provide the support your parents or children need.
If you have elderly parents or a child who requires special care at home, your natural impulse is to put their needs first. But setting aside your own needs for extended periods of time is not good for your health. The emotional and physical strain of caregiving can lead to stress-related illnesses, depression and other chronic conditions, particularly for those who work outside the home. In fact, studies show that an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers suffer from clinical depression. Before resisting the notion of giving yourself a little care, consider this: If you're not at your best, how can you give your best to those you care for? Here are a few ways to reduce the effects of caregiver stress:
- Accept Help
You're likely to get offers of help from friends and family. Be prepared with a list of tasks they could perform. Breaking down multi-step projects into discrete tasks can make this easier. You should also learn to delegate at home and at work. Sharing chores as a family or a team can make them go faster and get everyone involved.
- Don't Succumb to Guilt
Feeling guilty is normal, but remember that you're doing the best you can. Focus on things that are worth your time and energy, and let others deal with the day to day, such as laundry and dishes.
- Keep Healthy
Honor your need for a good night's sleep and a healthy diet, and stay active on a daily basis. Exercise helps reduce stress and gives you time to clear your thoughts. You don't need to set aside a lot of time. Walking, playing with kids or pets, or working in the garden all count.
- Make time for yourself
As you schedule your week, set aside time for yourself. You can steal peaceful moments by getting up a bit earlier than usual, taking a walk at lunchtime or savoring your kids' TV time with a book or hobby. If you need more time to recharge, consider respite care for elderly parents, or a dependable relative or friend to watch the kids occasionally.
- Stay Connected
Be sure to see friends or socialize on a regular basis. If you can't get out, connect using email and social networks.
- Remember You're Not Alone
There are a number of local and national resources for caregivers that can provide support, information and community resources. These include:
- Area Agency on Aging (www.eldercare.gov) for those caring for elderly parents
- National Family Caregivers Association (http://nfcacares.org)
- Family Caregiver Alliance (http://caregiver.org) for general needs.
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