Caregivers Need Care Too: Tips for Caregiver Wellbeing
This is a guest article from Community Ambassador Nicoletta Skoufalos, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and practitioner at GreenTPsychology, LLC. For more caregivers resources, visit the National Resource Center on Lupus.
November is National Caregivers Month and it is important to take a moment to acknowledge the love and dedication that caregivers provide. When focusing so much on the well-being of others, the reality that caregiver self-care is just as necessary can be forgotten. Let us all remember the value of caregiver self-care! Keep the following tips in mind!
Physical exercise tends to be one of the first areas of self-care that slips when caregivers become overwhelmed by juggling too many responsibilities. This can be a dangerous activity to abandon as lack of exercise may contribute to lethargy and even depression, not to mention poor health.
Thinking about physical activity as something that can be enjoyable, goes a long way! This doesn’t have to be the gym. It can be whatever you want it to be: walking, gardening, or hiking. Find something that is fun for you and that can also get you moving. Don’t worry about how much time you have to devote to it, just keep it consistent every week. This regular activity may help improve your mood, decrease stress, increase energy levels, and of course keep you physically fit!
Don't Underestimate the Power of Friendships
Caregivers sometimes put off things that they experience as non-essential. All too often, friendship gets delegated to this list. Friendships can be a great source of support during trying times. Research demonstrates that perceptions of strong social support protect against anxiety and depression (e.g. Roohafza, Afshar, Hassanzadeh Keshteli, et al., 2014). There are also studies showing that loneliness is associated with worse physical and mental health (e.g. Cole, Capitanio, Chun, et al., 2015). While caregiving can take up much time, it is important to not take friendships for granted. Try combining your physical activity with "friend time." Go to a dance class or go jogging with a friend regularly or set up monthly dinner dates. Do not underestimate the power of friendships!
Get Some Extra Zs.
Many caregivers report exhaustion related to managing their multiple responsibilities, which can oftentimes impact the quality of their sleep. Sleep deprivation interferes with our ability to manage stress, contributes to weight gain, can impair concentration, and impacts the immune system.
We all hear about the need for 8 hours of sleep, but just as important as the quantity is the quality of our sleep. Is there frequent waking in the night? Is the sleep restless? Are you having a hard time falling asleep when it’s time for bed? If the quality of your sleep is poor, you might want to consider not drinking caffeine after 1pm or cut it out completely. Avoid alcohol as it can interfere with your sleep cycle and contribute to restlessness. Avoid screens for about an hour before bedtime. Exercising can help improve sleep. Some people also like to use guided meditations for sleep, which can be found easily online.
Engaging in any activity that slows our thoughts down and allows for comfortable and easy breathing is an effective stress reduction tool. This can be anything: meditation, yoga, deep breathing, listening to music, playing with your dog, getting a massage or sitting in a park looking at the leaves on a tree. What is most important is that you remain in the present moment and when you notice anxiety-provoking thoughts you just acknowledge them as thoughts that you can return to later. Find the right stress reduction technique for you, and like exercise make it as consistent as possible or maybe even integrate it into your exercise regimen.
Cole, S.W., Capitanio, J.P., Chun, K., et al. (2015). Myeloid Differentiation architecture of leukocyte transcriptome dynamics in perceived social isolation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201514249.
Roohafza, H.R., Afshar, H., Hassanzadeh Keshteli, A., et al. (2014). What's the role of perceived social support and coping styles in depression and anxiety? Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 19 (10). 944-949.