By Erin Feitsma, Times Total Media Correspondent
Take care: According to 2020 research from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, approximately 53 million adults in the U.S. served as caregivers*, having provided care to an adult or child with special needs in the past 12 months. That’s a whole lot of caregivers, and a whole lot of care being given. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion estimates that approximately one in three caregivers spends at least 20 hours a week caring for a loved one. Keep in mind that many caregivers also have other jobs. As a result, busy caregivers may find it difficult to find the time or energy for self-care in their already packed schedules. Here, we outline how you can care for yourself even as you shoulder your caregiving responsibilities.
As a caregiver, it’s vital that you stay healthy and look after yourself. Getting enough sleep and enjoying healthy meals and snacks are a couple of ways to make sure you have enough energy for the next day. Also, although it may feel counterintuitive to use what little energy you feel you have left to get a workout, getting exercise may actually supply you with more energy. If you’re looking for a low-impact activity, try yoga, which studies have shown can help with stress and anxiety.
Talk it out
Caregiving can be stressful and isolating, and sometimes, it can take a toll on your mind and emotions. Talking to loved ones, such as friends or family members, about how you’re doing may help you feel more supported. Texts, phone calls and virtual hangouts can help remind you that you’re part of a larger community that cares about you. Spending time with a loved one face to face may also help you feel more connected. Plus, it’s always nice to get a hug.
Find an outlet
With the free time you do have, consider pouring yourself into a creative outlet or picking up a new hobby to help you focus on something non-caregiving related. Start an online shop selling your original artwork, try keeping a blog or simply dance. If you love music, lean into learning a new instrument or perfect your skills on one you already play. Writers, penning your thoughts in a journal might help you release them from your mind. Want to crochet plushies of the entire cast of “Stranger Things”? Do that. But don’t beat yourself up if you’re not feeling particularly creative, because that’s OK, too.
Spend time with a pet
According to Johns Hopkins, research shows that simply petting a dog can reduce stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, spend some time with your pets or, if you don’t have an animal of your own, enlist the help of friends, family members or neighbors to see if they’d let you dog-, cat- or hamster-sit their pet for a bit. You may also consider getting a pet of your own if desired. Research shows that pet owners have better self-esteem, and their fluffy companions may be able to help ease depression.
Remember that statistic from the first paragraph? With millions of caregivers in the U.S., you’re not alone, and you’re likely not the only caregiver in your local area. There may be programs, such as a caregiving support group, in your region that can help put you in touch with caregiving resources and services as well as individuals who share like experiences with you. It’s also important to prioritize your mental health, and speaking to a mental health professional about your experiences can help you cope.
Ask for help
You may decide at some point that you need to take a break from caregiving, and that’s OK. Whether your break is short- or long-term, there are options available for you. According to the Mayo Clinic, you may have access to respite care in your area. This could include in-home services from health care aides who provide companionship or nursing services, help from adult care centers or short-term nursing homes.
For more information and resources for family caregivers, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance at https://www.caregiver.org/ or call (800) 445-8106. Find additional resources from the National Alliance for Caregiving at https://www.caregiving.org/resources/.
*Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center defines a caregiver as a person who tends to the needs or concerns of a person with short- or long-term limitations due to illness, injury or disability.
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