Family caregivers tend to be so concerned with the well-being of
their loved ones that they often ignore their own needs.
Caregivers who fail to take time for self-care are subject to
stress-related illness and other problems that can undermine the
task to which they are so lovingly devoted.
In one out of every three U.S. households, at least one member
is a caregiver, looking after someone with a disability or
There are 44 million family caregivers in the United States, yet
many do not think of themselves as caregivers; they feel as though
they are doing something natural. But if you are making meals for
loved ones, picking up their medications, going with them on
doctor's visits, or simply providing companionship, you are
performing the functions of a caregiver.
Identifying yourself as a caregiver is an important first step
for tuning into your own physical and mental health and avoiding
some of the pitfalls common among family caregivers.
Most caregivers feel stressed at times. They often face the
demands of care-giving coupled with worry and grief over the loved
one they are caring for.
They might have feelings of anger, resentment, sadness,
hopelessness and guilt. These feelings do not mean that they do not
love their family member; they simply mean they are human.
The most important thing is to acknowledge these feelings and
know they are normal. Sharing these feelings with a family
member, friend, spiritual leader or personal physician can help
prevent them from becoming overwhelming. Joining a caregiver
support group is a wonderful way to express these feelings with
understanding peers and learn about new ideas for coping.
Many caregivers suffer from what I call a doctrine of
self-reliance. They feel as though they are supposed to be strong
enough to handle whatever comes their way. But caregivers should
not be too proud, shy or afraid to ask for help.
One of the biggest mistakes they make is trying to do too much
on their own. Seeking to access community resources or delegating
some daily tasks to others provides caregivers with much needed
breaks and makes them realize they are not alone in their
Caregivers are not being selfish by taking time for self-care.
Instead, they are trying to sustain the energy, temperament and
compassion it takes to be good caregivers. Here are some coping
strategies caregivers should consider:
- Take time for a hobby, leisure or anything you enjoy, even if
it is only for a few minutes.
- Stay active with exercise, yard work, gardening and other
pursuits. It can offer a welcomed distraction and ease stress.
- Socialize with friends and family members. If you can't get out
of the house, e-mail, social networking and the telephone are
wonderful ways to stay connected with others.
- Take care of your health with regular checkups, healthful
eating, exercise and rest. Because they often ignore their own
needs, family caregivers are less likely than non-caregivers to
practice preventive health and self-care behavior.
Caregivers are wonderful and generous people, but they can't
expect to take care of others if they don't look after
By: Rev. Gunnar A. Cerda, MDiv, the manager of
pastoral care at OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital and Westerville
Emergency Care Center