Caring for Another? Care for YOU, too!

Alli Walsh, Social Media Strategist

Caring for Another? Care for YOU, too!

When you’re the primary caregiver for someone in need, everything seems urgent, except your own needs. But just like we’re instructed to don our own oxygen mask on an airplane before assisting those near us, as caregivers we need to keep our own physical and mental health top of mind. To put it simply, if you aren’t taken care of, how can you take care of those you love?

Older American caregivers experiencing the strain of caring for a loved one have a 63 percent higher chance of dying than their non-caregiving peers.1 And baby boomers managing the care of both ailing parents and the rigors of parenthood have higher risk of depression, chronic illness and decreased quality of life.2 Look for the following signs that it’s time to focus on YOU:

  • Sleeplessness. Giving care during the night or worrying about a loved one can prevent caregivers from sleeping well.
  • Inability to focus. Stress, anxiety and fatigue can thwart the ability to concentrate.
  • Moodiness. Caring for another can result in feeling as if you’ve lost control of your emotions.
  • Depression. It’s easy to feel alone when you’re the main source of care for another.
  • Weakened immune system. Catching every bug that comes along? That’s more common when you’re not taking adequate care of yourself.3

If the signs above feel familiar to you or to someone you know, there are action steps to make caregiving more manageable for all involved. Work through the following steps to move forward toward a healthier, happier you and a better relationship with the person—or people—you care for.

  1. Identify personal barriers. Sometimes personal beliefs about a caregiving situation get in the way of self-care. Think about unhealthy or unconstructive thoughts that might be getting in your way, such as, “I’m solely responsible for my parent’s care,” or “If I don’t do this, no one will,” or even “I just don’t have time to take care of myself.” Once you identify the anxiety-causing beliefs that are getting in your way, you can take steps to change your thinking and your life.4
  2. Manage stress. Start by determining the stress inducers you can and cannot change. While you can’t change the fact of a person’s illness, you can find pockets of time away, brisk walks, a coffee with a dear friend, or a laugh session streaming your favorite comedian’s last standup routine. You know what relieves your stress. It’s time to get these things into your life on a regular basis.5
  3. Set goals. Once you’ve determined your list of de-stressors, set goals related to getting what you need.6 This may involve support from others and that’s okay. You’ll be a better caregiver once you work yourself back onto your to-do list.
  4. Ask for help—and take it! Most caregivers will need help from others to reach their personal care goals. Don’t hesitate to ask and when others offer, take it without guilt. Make a mental list of ways in which people can help you and keep it top of mind. When someone asks, you’ll be ready.7 If you’re having trouble asking, find a good mental health counselor to help you work through the process.8 Start by reaching out to your general doctor for recommendations to counselors near you who work with caregivers.
  5. Choose wellness. The constant needs related to caregiving easily lead to lack of exercise or good eating habits for caregivers. Make a commitment to food and exercise choices that keep you healthy and well nourished.9 You’ll feel better and give better care as a result. Start with easily achievable goals, like eating three balanced meals a day or getting out for a 15-minute daily walk. Once you’ve reached those initial goals, make new ones.
  6. Find fellowship. Talking with a counselor can help, but there are other community-based groups that also support caregivers in their daily lives. Check local hospitals for groups that meet in person and look for online forums, such as the Caregiver Action Network that gathers caregivers in a safe, virtual environment where they can share concerns and discuss problems.

 

References:

1, 2, 4-7 “Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers.” Family Caregiver Alliance, 2012. Accessed 27 Aug. 2017.

3 Friend, Jamie L. “Caregiver Stress: Don't Forget Self-Care.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 July 2017. Accessed 27 Aug. 2017.

8, 9 Johnson, Johnson and. “Self Care and Stress Management Tips for Caregivers.” AARP, AARP, Accessed 27 Aug. 2017.

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