Did you know that if you are a caregiver, you might be damaging your own health? If you are not a caregiver, is one of your parents a caregiver? The New England Journal of Medicine
cited a groundbreaking new study by Dr. Nicholas Christakis that caring for a sick spouse can raise a caregiver's risk of death by 20%. For particularly disabling illnesses, like dementia, the daily toll on the caretaker is worse than the toll of a spouse's death!
Many caregivers tell me that they grieve a little every day while the person is alive. Drawing from my own personal experience, I am convinced that there is a high correlation between my mother contracting Alzheimer’s disease and serving as a caregiver to my father who was suffering from the disease. Lightning striking twice in the same household jumpstarted my attention. After having read Dr. Christakis’ research, my attention is now riveted to the internal, invisible, physiological effects of the relentless daily stress of caregiving.
You might ask: What can we do about it – run away from our responsibilities and seek our own pleasures? The guilt would find a way to track us down and kill us anyway. Although the findings are frightening and disheartening, they serve as a wake-up call to 44 million nationwide caregivers. As an only child to two parents with Alzheimer’s disease, I know first hand that you can find your balance in the moments in between where you can bounce back from the pressure.
Here are some suggestions for healthy caregiving:
- Give up the road rage. Your life path has turned you into a caregiver; there is no point to be filled with “Why me?” self-pity. Learn and grow from your experience. “How can I turn this experience to my advantage?”
- Activity alleviates anxiety! The stress hormones, which are secreted due to the stress of caregiving, have to leave your body in order not to damage your internal organs. When you live with stress 24/7, any form of exercise is the best way to burn off cortisol. Endorphins will be released and you will relax and feel happier. Guess what, the person in your charge will absorb your relaxed state!
- Revitalize yourself! You know what activities and foods do it for you. A good barometer of how effective you are at regenerating is if you are getting enough sleep.
- Believe in yourself that you can influence the outcome. This gives you some control. Feeling helpless and hopeless translates into sick and tired.
- Commit emotionally to do your best to solve every day difficulties. You will be surprised at what you can accomplish with a potent attitude.
- Ask for help because what you think and feel affect your health. Get support from family, friends and professionals. If you are putting on a happy face for others, you will be crying alone.
- Find a creative pastime. This will help you get in touch with your own identity – other than that of caregiving- and celebrate it. Look for your hidden gifts.
For more, check out my book Changing Habits: The Caregiver's Total Workout
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout
and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul,
a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com