What can a caregiver do to take care of themselves?

Caregiving may be one of the rewarding and worthwhile jobs youíll ever undertake. But it can also cause immense strain and lead to depression and health problems of your own.

Care for your own health, too

It can be difficult to find the time to eat well, exercise, enjoy life, release stress, and get the rest and support you need when youíre caring for someone else.†

Here are some strategies that can help.

Seek respite care and assistance.†Take time for yourself. It can make a real difference to your state of mind. And get the assistance you need, whether itís help with finances or daily tasks.

Eat well.†Plan meals and snacks ahead of time, so you wonít be inclined to grab fast food or junk at hectic moments. Include plenty of vegetables and fruits in your diet, and choose whole grains over refined grain products. Limit or cut out unhealthy fats and sweets. Keep healthy snacks like air-popped popcorn or fruit readily available.

Stay active.†Frequent exercise delivers proven health benefits. Try to get 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise a day, most days of the week. If you canít exercise for a full half-hour or hour at a time, sneak in three 10-minute workouts throughout the day.

Stay connected.†Catch up with friends by phone or email, or plan weekly walks and the occasional lunch or movie. Ask people to visit you, to give you a break from your caregiving responsibilities.

Enjoy yourself.†Listen to music you like, enjoy a luxurious bath, take a yoga class, dabble in art or creative pastimes, go out to dinner, or splurge on a massage. Regular time off helps you refresh and regroup when you start to feel burned out.

Relieve stress

When you have no outlet for stress, it compounds quickly. Have medical appointments compelled you to miss work again? Are you worried about paying soaring prescription drug bills? While you canít completely erase sources of stress in your life, you can relieve some stress and work on solutions to problems that are raising your blood pressure.

Retrench.†Reassess needs and brainstorm solutions. Would grocery shopping online give you a little more time for yourself? Can other family members step up to the plate or pitch in financially?

Release feelings.†Sometimes stress stems from feelings such as anger or frustration. Find ways to release these feelings without hurting yourself or others. Join a support group, talk with understanding friends, or consider therapy.

Relax.†Learn meditation and other relaxation techniques through a class, CD, or book. The time and money youíll invest will pay dividends in improved health and well-being.

Try a support group.†Many organizations, hospitals, health care plans, and religious organizations offer support groups for caregivers. Someone on your loved oneís care team may be able to steer you toward one of these groups. Support groups are a good place to blow off steam and share ideas with people who are facing similar situations, yet are not directly involved in yours. Some support groups are online.

Consider therapy.†If you find caregiving emotionally stressful, sometimes the best support you can seek is therapy. Depression is common among caregiversóespecially in those who donít have good support. If you frequently feel depressed, overwrought, or overwhelmed, get help from a mental health professional. If you donít know where to turn, ask your provider for a referral.