By Jaimie Hutchison, MA, LPC
Maya Angelou once said, “Nothing will work unless you do.” We can only effectively help others when we first take care of ourselves. According to the Family Caregivers Alliance, there are roughly 40 million unpaid caregivers in the US caring for those over 18 and according to the US Census there are around 63.1 million parents in the US. Are you a caregiver? Many people don’t even label themselves as caregivers, particularly those caring for an aging relative. They think of themselves as just doing their duty to care for their family member. So, the first step we can take toward self-care is to identify ourselves as caregivers.
Caregivers report higher incidents of sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, failure to exercise, failure to stay in bed when ill, and postponement or failure to make medical appointments for themselves. Research also shows that family caregivers are at an increased risk for depression, excessive use of alcohol/drugs and are more likely to have chronic illness than non-caregivers.
Now that we have identified ourselves as caregivers and learned some of the risks related to being a caregiver, we can start to look at what we can do to care for ourselves.
First, let’s reflect on some of the barriers caregivers have to attending to their self-care. Do you think you are being selfish by taking care of yourself? Do you have trouble asking for what you need? Do you feel inadequate if you ask for help? Do you feel that you have to prove you are worthy of the care recipient’s love? Do you feel that if you don’t care for your loved one that no one will? Take some time to ask yourself what is getting in the way of you taking care of yourself. Once we know what our barriers are we can begin to address them.
While high stress levels and low self-care can cause negative health implications, it is always possible to act and to work toward health. Start with the basics. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep, stay hydrated, take 30 minutes each day to move or exercise, prepare some healthy food to have on hand, or take time to laugh. Did you know that belly laughs are therapeutic? When we decide to build in one positive habit, we are on our way to a healthier self. Commit to do something this week. Can you take a 30 minute walk each day after work? Can you connect with supportive others to laugh with? Can you spend an hour on Sunday prepping healthy food for the week? When we are overwhelmed self-care can feel like too much to add to our to do list, so starting with small goals can be a good way to make a positive change.
Once you tackle one step toward health, you can add some time in to recharge. Consider savoring something that you enjoy. Listen to your favorite music, play the guitar, knit, or identify birds at your feeder. When you savor things that you enjoy, like really take the time to enjoy them with all of your senses, you will find yourself feeling more relaxed.
You are worth it.
No matter how much you love your family, your success will depend on your health and wellness. Without our health, mental and physical, we can’t thrive. If this article has caused you to identify yourself as a caregiver there are resources right at MSU that can assist you. You can visit our Family Affinity Group, aimed at caregivers of those under 18 or our Adult Caregivers Affinity Group, aimed at those caring for others over 18, for support and resources. You can schedule a consultation with the MSU WorkLife Office to explore resources and information to assist you in your caregiving journey. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or that you could benefit by additional support, you can reach out to the MSU Employee Assistance Program for counseling or referrals to off campus counseling. You are not alone in your caregiving journey. The MSU WorkLife Office provides support, information, and training to help you navigate your work and life, including caring for your family. We are here for you.
- Family Caregiver Alliance. (2012). Taking care of YOU: Self-care for family caregivers.
- Family Caregiver Alliance. (2016). Caregiver statistics: Demographics.
- Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself.