May is Mental Health Awareness Month! At LTC Consumer, we understand the importance of drawing awareness to common mental health issues, including the effects of caregiving on your mental health.
The Stress of Caregiving
A study from China1 examined the health of primary caregivers of elderly individuals. In this study, a caregiver was defined as a relative, family member, or friend who spent a minimum of four hours per week providing unpaid care for at least one ADL (eating, bathing, dressing, transferring, toileting, continence, housework, or taking medications) to someone age 65 or older.
Out of 246 participants, 215 shared a home with the person in care and 31 lived separately. Among the caregivers, two-thirds were female and nearly half were over age 50.
The study showed health risks increasing in both male and female caregivers with elevated risk for asthma, digestive ulcers, arthritis, weight loss, anxiety, depression, and two or more chronic illnesses.
In addition, participants were more likely to experience stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, and memory loss. Those with greater levels of caregiver burden were found to have elevated rates of both chronic illnesses and symptoms.
How to Cope with Caregiving Stress
Caring for a sick or elderly individual is a stressful time. Protect your mental health by practicing these tips to help reduce stress.
- Be Realistic: If you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, you don’t have to say “Yes” to everything. You may be taking on more responsibility than you can or should handle. Create a plan as a family so the burden of caregiving doesn’t fall only on your shoulders.
- Avoid the “Superman/Superwoman” Urge: Don’t expect perfection of yourself and others. Ask yourself, “What needs done? How much can I do? What adjustments can I make?” Don’t hesitate to ask for help from others if you need it.
- Pause for Quiet Reflection: Give yourself 10-20 minutes per day of quiet reflection to reduce chronic stress. Listen to music, read a book, do breathing exercises, pray, or think of pleasant things and simply do nothing.
- Take One Task at a Time: Maybe you’re working, raising children, and expected to provide caregiving in the evenings. Don’t stress about your next task quite yet. Take one task at a time and allow yourself to feel good when crossing it off your list.
- Exercise: Regular exercise helps relieve stress and wards off chronic diseases. Aim for 20-30 minutes of physical activity each day for your body and mind.
- Be Open About Your Feelings: Share your feelings with a trusted friend and stay in touch with family. Allow them to provide love, support, and guidance. You don’t have to do this alone.
Long Term Care insurance (LTCI) helps reduce caregiving stress on families and loved ones by helping plan for and pay for care services. Learn more about LTCI and speak with an LTCI Specialist about your options today.
1 Ho, S. C., A. Chan, J. Woo, P. Chong, and A. Sham. 2009. Impact of caregiving on health and quality of life: A comparative population-based study of caregivers for elderly persons and noncaregivers. The Journals of Gerontology, Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 64 (8):873-9.