By Bernard Freeman
Spending a significant amount of time and energy caring for another adult can be difficult, even causing harm to the caregiver. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, caregiving can lead to stress, feelings of being overwhelmed, allowing one’s own health or needs to suffer and physical strain, if the caregiving requires physical exertion.
What are the risks?
Caregivers are at an increased risk of anxiety and related disorders; diabetes; cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and cholesterol and a greater risk of a heart attack; heartburn; infection; obesity; pain; and depression. You also should watch out for a tendency toward alcohol, tobacco or drug abuse; caregivers are at a greater risk of substance abuse as a way to cope with their own problems.
Make your health a priority
Caregivers can take a number of small steps to ensure they’re staying healthy, both physically and emotionally. Eat a balanced diet and get enough rest (this means sleep, but also includes resting throughout your work if you provide physical care). Exercise 30-60 minutes at least four days a week, maybe taking your loved one on a walk with you if you can or trying water aerobics or some other exercise. Find ways to control your stress, such as yoga, meditation, journaling, seeing a counselor or spending time on a hobby.
Go to your doctor
Make sure you’re getting regular checkups and getting the appropriate health care, including preventative screenings for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Keep up-to-date on vaccinations; this is especially important if your loved one’s immunity is compromised and can’t get vaccinations themselves. You also can talk to your doctor if you are experiencing signs of depression and anxiety and ask for a mental health evaluation.
Take a break
Don’t feel guilty about taking time away from your charge. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to fulfill your tasks, ask other people for help. Look at the schedule and see what changes can be made to require less work of you or tasks with which other people can help. Be honest with yourself about how much time you’re able to give and what tasks you can complete and still meet your own needs.