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Caregiver Stress: Tips for taking care of yourself

Pride swells in Donald when he talks about caring for his father. The tall veteran who raised him taught him about baseball, cars and good character. His father had always been his role model – and his biggest supporter. “Dad cheered the loudest for me. I could always hear him over everyone else, and that always made me feel supported. I felt empowered,” Donald said.

When his father’s health began to decline, Donald didn’t hesitate to step into a caregiver role. But, as many caregivers learn, to be his father’s biggest supporter, he had to make sure he also took care of himself. “I started out neglecting my own health,” he said. “I didn’t eat regularly and wasn’t getting enough sleep.”

According to AARP, the toll of caring for loved ones can diminish a caregivers' own health. When his blood pressure became an issue, Donald realized he had neglected his health, and doing so could make it harder for him to be there for his dad. He made a few simple changes to his routine that helped him increase his energy and improve his overall health.

  • Take personal time: Donald carved out a small amount of time each day to just relax and be by himself. He might go for a run, read a magazine or visit his favorite coffee shop. His personal time allowed him to relax, unwind and enjoy activities that made him happy.

  • Get enough sleep: Donald had gotten 4 to 6 hours of sleep per night. He realized that his lack of sleep was like a disease that infected the rest of his day. He felt sluggish. He could be moody. He even gained weight. He began going to bed early enough that he could get at least eight hours of sleep each night. He felt refreshed and energetic once he made the change.

  • Build a support network: Donald found comfort in joining local caregiver support groups and online networks. Being able to hear and read about others in the same situation as him made him feel less alone and encouraged.

“I have to do my best to support my dad, so I have to make my health a priority,” he said. “If I’m not healthy, I’m not helpful.”

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