Caregiving and Personal Health

Caregiving and Personal Health

Caregiving and Personal Health

In today’s blog, we will talk about mental health and being a family caregiver. A lot of research has been done on the association between physical and psychological health and being a family caregiver.[1] Since mental and physical health can be impacted by caregiving, it is important to practice healthy lifestyle habits to help ease the stressors that come with caregiving. Below, we describe the common experiences people face when they assume the role of a family caregiver. We will then cover some guidelines to keep in mind to maintain your personal health.

How is Caregiving Related to Personal Health?

According to the American Psychological Association, caregivers are at risk for developing mental health disorders, like depression.[2] Although caregiving can have many rewards, it comes with a lot of stress. Caregivers often experience anger, exhaustion, sadness, loneliness, and feeling overwhelmed.[3] Harmful stress can negatively impact overall health and happiness because your body reacts to protect itself.

When we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) causes us to go into a “fight or flight” response. The SNS signals the body to release adrenaline and cortisol hormones, which causes your heart rate to increase, blood vessels to dilate, digestive processes to change, and glucose levels to rise in order to prepare to “run away” from a stressful event.[4] Normally, our body will return to normal, but repeated instances of stress can end up taking a toll on our body and can result these symptoms[5]:

  • Headaches
  • Tight muscles
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling tired
  • Changes in libido (sex drive)
  • Stomach pain
  • Insomnia (sleep problems)

While not all stress is bad, how you handle it can often make matters worse and put you at greater risk for depression.

How to Manage Caregiver Stress

Since stress is such a common experience among caregivers, it has often been referred to as “caregiver stress” or stress that results from the responsibilities of family caregiving. If you are experiencing the symptoms of stress outlined above, then you should consider these guidelines to help improve your symptoms.

  • Social support: Finding support from family and friends can often remove a huge burden from family caregivers. Do not be afraid to express yourself to friends and family and rely on their kindness if they offer to help. Many times, all you need is for someone to hear you speak and provide emotional support. That’s what family and friends are for.
  • Ask for help: If you need help with caregiving tasks, then you can likewise ask family, friends, or even consider hiring a certified nursing assistant. Having somebody else step in for a few hours can provide you with much needed relief.
  • Don’t set unrealistic goals: It is common to want to get a lot done in a day. But when you really sit back and think about what is realistic, like assessing how much time something will take and how you will feel after accomplishing X task, then you may realize you are burning yourself out. Instead, set realistic goals for yourself so you do not experience increased stress
  • Make time for your health: As hard as it may seem, try setting your physical and emotional health as top priorities. You can improve these by exercising, meditation, breathing practices, and doing things you enjoy. If you are physically and emotionally healthy, then you can also provide better care for your loved one, which may help alleviate future stress.
  • Find support groups: Caregiving support groups are very common and can be a great way to find people who are experiencing similar things you are experiencing. Many times, finding people in a similar situation can be relieving because you can both empathize with the other and provide informed feedback.

If you have any questions, then please call ElderCare at Home at 888-285-0093 or visit our website.

[1] Schulz, R., & Sherwood, P. R. (2008). Physical and mental health effects of family caregiving. The American journal of nursing108(9 Suppl), 23–27. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NAJ.0000336406.45248.4c

[2] Source: APA

[3] Source: Mayo Clinic: Stress Management – Caregiver Stress

[4] Source: APA: Stress effects on the body

[5] Source: Mayo Clinic: Stress Management, v. 2

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