Happy National Family Caregivers Month (NFCM)!
November is a month for gratitude, and not just because of Thanksgiving! November is also National Family Caregivers Month (NFCM), a time to recognize the nation’s caregivers for their service and support them in the difficult work of taking charge of another person’s wellbeing while also attending to their own needs and those of their families.
Caregivers assist others who are unwell, disabled, or elderly with their daily needs and medical tasks, and include people who work full time providing family care professionally to those who became family caregivers by circumstance.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, roughly 45 million people provide unpaid care for others each year. Women shoulder most of this burden: 75% of paid and unpaid caregiving is provided by women, as is 65% of unpaid, informal caregiving. Women are also more likely to take on the most difficult caregiving tasks, like bathing and toileting, when compared to men.
It takes tremendous dedication to provide care for someone else: between shopping, preparing food, feeding, dressing, bathing, researching, managing medication, researching medical conditions, and even performing some medical tasks, caregivers often spend on average 20-30 hours per week providing care. While caregivers by profession are paid for this work, informal caregivers often shoulder this load on top of a full time job.
Whether by profession or by circumstance, caregiving takes a mental and physical toll. Caregivers face increased risk of depression, anxiety, prolonged stress, and even developing medical conditions or chronic illnesses of their own like high blood pressure, stemming from neglecting their own basic needs like sleeping enough, exercising, eating well, taking time to recover when ill, and keeping up with their own medical demands.
While paid caregivers can lean on the training of the profession, millions of unpaid caregivers don’t necessarily have the structures in place to manage caregiving while also attending to their own needs. Since developing a routine around caregiving that leaves space for self-care can be challenging, for National Family Caregivers Month we put together a primer on self-care for caregivers that you can share with the everyday heroes in your life who dedicate themselves to care for others.
The Importance of Self-Care: A Primer for Caregivers
When you’re focused on the wellbeing of someone else, it can be easy to neglect your own needs or put them on the back burner. It might even feel wrong to prioritize yourself when the person you’re caring for has more pressing demands. Yet the truth is, you can’t care for others without being strong yourself, all the more so when you are engaged in an act of service that is often especially mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. Here’s how to do it.
Control Your Stress
If you notice your stress levels rising, take a minute to put yourself in a productive mindset by distinguishing between what you can and cannot change. You can’t create more hours in one day, and you can’t erase the condition causing your loved ones to need care, but you can find small and powerful ways to improve your own wellbeing.
For example, you may not have an hour free every day to hit the gym, but if you look for just ten minutes in each day to prioritize exercise, you can still reap the benefits of exercise that will protect your physical and mental health as you care for others.
Of course, when you’re taking care of someone else, it’s easy to run out of time and energy to do the things you want to do for yourself.
Organize Your Caregiving Tasks
Developing a routine around caregiving can take time – sometimes you don’t know what your loved ones will need and when until you start providing care. Once you have a sense of what you need to do for the loved one you’re caring for, free yourself of the worry over forgetting something by writing down your tasks.
Create a checklist to organize your caregiving duties and all of the important information you need to have handy relating to your loved one’s needs and conditions. You can organize it by category (medical care, nutrition needs, recurring tasks like paying the bills or grocery shopping, and personal care). If you don’t have time to sit down and tackle this in one go, you can create one as you perform caregiving services: just write down what you do as you do it, and you will end up with a list that you can then organize and create routines around.
If you don’t have time to sit down and do this, you can also note tasks as you complete them and use that information as a starting point. You can find more detailed guidance on creating your caregiver checklist, here.
Make Your Caregiving Task List Easy to Access and Share
You can organize your tasks in a Google Doc, making it easy to edit anywhere while creating an ongoing record, and makes it easy to share with others who may need access to these records, or who could potentially help out with individual tasks. Your task list can even double as instructions, making it an invaluable communication tool that makes it easier to accept offers of help when they come.
Write Yourself Into Your Task List
Seeing caregiving responsibilities together on a page not only helps you organize your time, and potentially delegate items to other loved ones – it also provides a place for you to write yourself into your agenda. It may seem like a small thing, but the visual reminder that self care is a necessary part of care for others will help you keep up with your own needs while reducing the commonly-reported feelings of guilt when those who care for loved ones pause to do something for themselves.
Self-Care Items to include:
Get a flu shot: When you schedule your flu shot, you’re also protecting your loved ones who may be at risk for severe cases of the flu.
Get Some Exercise: Exercising daily, even if it’s just going for a brief walk, is good for your health and your mood, and that makes you better able to shoulder your caretaking duties along with your own life.
Schedule Your own Medical Appointments: You need to be in good health to take care of somebody else, and getting your regular checkup on the calendar early will let you plan around your next doctor’s visit.
Get Support When You Need It
To make caregiving sustainable, you really do have to take care of yourself first, and that can mean reaching out for support when you need it. Resources and support for caregivers can be found on the Caregiver Action Network, Self-care for the caregiver – Harvard Health and Support to Caregivers | ACL Administration for Community Living.
From all of us at HHER, thank you caregivers for your service! You are an inspiration to us all.
For more health-related topics, tips, and recipes, follow along with our Hospitality Health ER blog! We’ve recently covered other self-care topics in “4 Plants for Healthy Skin” and “The Health Benefits of Green Tea.” For giveaways, updates, and COVID-19 tips, like us on Facebook and Instagram.