There are nearly 50 million informal caregivers in the US today who provide assistance for individuals who are unable to care for themselves independently. 1 These individuals are often loved ones—spouses, family members, friends, and neighbors. On top of the stresses of everyday life, helping another person perform daily tasks can be a huge undertaking. Being a caregiver is often physically and emotionally taxing, which is why it’s vital for caregivers to check in regularly on their own health and wellbeing. The number of caregivers needed in the US is projected to continue to grow as the population ages, so it is necessary for caregivers to prioritize their own health to give the best care possible. 2
1. Seek Support
Having a strong support system is one of the most important parts of being a caregiver. Because the work of a caregiver can lead to feelings of sadness, guilt, and anxiety, having people you can confide in is one of the best ways to cope. Your support system may be comprised of family members, friends, or groups in your local community. There are also several organizations online that connect caregivers across the country including the Family Caregiver Alliance and the Caregiver Action Network. A caregiver support group can connect you with people who can relate to caregiver-specific hardships and share helpful tips.
2. Take Care of Yourself
The CDC cites that because of the tolls that being a caregiver can have on an individual, they are at higher risk for the following conditions:
Elevated levels of depression and anxiety
Higher use of psychoactive medications
Worse self-reported physical health
Compromised immune function
Increased risk of early death 2
Eating nutritious meals, exercising, and getting enough sleep are the foundations of good health. Take the time to regularly assess your wellbeing and don’t hesitate to seek medical treatment if you are experiencing any new or worsening symptoms. Remember, your health is just as important as the person’s you are caring for.
3. Accept Help
If you have a strong support system, members are likely to extend their help to you. If you are falling behind on caregiving, or just need to take a break, accept the offers for help! Being a caregiver isn’t something you have to brave alone.
4. Utilize Online Resources
There are dozens of online resources for nearly every aspect of caregiving—from navigating financial planning to communicating with medical providers. The Family Caregiver Alliance has compiled helpful sources from around the web.
5. Keep Medical Information Organized
Having a system in place for organizing medical information and tracking health changes can alleviate a lot of caregiving stress. The Caregiver Action Network recommends keeping a patient file and outlines what information should be collected and stored:
Care recipient’s medical history
Physician Contact Information
Health history (e.g. surgeries, other medical conditions)
Private medical insurance
Long-term care insurance
Dental and Vision Insurance
Durable power of attorney for Health Care (also known as a Health Care Proxy)
Power of Attorney for Finances
Contact information for care recipient’s lawyer 3
6. Talk to Your Pharmacy
Your local pharmacy is an excellent resource for caregivers who are managing others’ medications. Taking medications correctly and on-time ensures that patients get the best outcome from their treatment. Medication reviews, compliance packaging, and refill synchronization all support proper medication adherence. We’ll also talk with you so we can address any health changes, side effects, or concerns.
7. Try These Stress Management Techniques
Managing your stress doesn’t just help you feel better, it also helps you provide better care for others. Find a stress management technique that works for you and schedule time for yourself to put it into practice. Some of the top strategies for coping with stress include:
Spend Time Outdoors
8. Stay Up to Date on Vaccinations
Getting vaccinated is important for everyone, but it is especially important for caregivers who are potentially caring for individuals who are immunocompromised. Staying up to date on your vaccinations helps keep those in care safe and healthy. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which vaccines are right for you.
9. Set Realistic Goals
Setting realistic goals can help alleviate the pressure that many caregivers feel. When you are a caregiver, there will be good days and bad days, but celebrating small achievements and remembering that many aspects of caregiving are out of your control can help to dissuade feelings of guilt and anxiety.
10. Focus on What You Are Able to Provide
Despite the stress and workload of helping a loved one through their daily life, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. According to the CDC, when you are able to focus on your accomplishments as a caregiver and the positive outcomes is associated with, you can often find:
A sense of fulfillment
Establishment of extended social networks or friendship groups associated with caregiving
Feeling needed and useful
Learning something about yourself, others, and the meaning of life
The health of caregivers is a public health priority and should be treated as such. When caregivers are focused on helping others, their own physical and mental health often takes a backseat. If you are a caregiver or offering support to a caregiver, remember that there are support groups, techniques, and resources to provide assistance. When caregivers prioritize their own health, they are able to better care for others.