If you have recently become the primary caregiver for a parent, you know your life has changed in fundamental ways you could not foresee.
Your daily routine has been disrupted, and because of that, you’ve gotten out of the positive, healthy habits you’ve developed over the years. There just isn’t time. Here are the top four health risks you need to be aware of, along with some suggestions on how to regain control of your life.
Whether it’s over the changes you see in your parent or the loss of control of your life, depression affects even the most optimistic people when they are dealing with caregiving responsibilities. It seems like there is no break, no escape, no exit plan. Of course you need to build-in respite time to get away, get perspective, and tend to yourself and your obligations, but the best thing you can learn to do is compartmentalize your daily routine. Be selfish in carving out the non-negotiable time you need to live your personal life. It won’t be as much as you want or need, but it may be enough to help you regain control and objectivity. Don't be hesitant to ask for help from family, friends and neighbors, or hire occasional professional help. It's an investment in your well being.
Lack of exercise
Your regular exercise regimen will be disrupted, but you need to make adjustments rather than abandon the program. And even if you weren’t exercising regularly before you became a caregiver, now is the time to start. Studies have shown that several short exercise periods are equivalent to one long one, and perhaps even better. Six 5-minute workouts equals one 30-minute workout. Here’s a book that can help.
You don’t feel like there’s time to sit down and enjoy a meal, much less prepare a healthy one. So you snack on salt- and sugar-laden junk food just to stop the hunger pangs. You have to realize this begins a downward spiral that not only affects your physical health but your mental health as well, leaving you less able to be an effective caregiver and more likely to continue to cede large chunks of your life to the caregiving monster. Pre-packaged meals won’t help, because they are generally high in sodium. You have to learn to eat simpler and cleaner. Yes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and lean meats. It’s almost as easy to prepare a piece of fruit or a vegetable than it is to open a bag of chips. Buy bags of frozen blueberries, walnuts, bananas. They’ll keep you healthier and more able to deal with the challenges of caregiving. Here's a diet that's beneficial for almost everyone.
Lack of sleep
This is a tough one. There are only so many hours in the day, and now it seems you have fewer than ever. If you can’t sleep as long as you are used to, it’s important to focus on the quality of the sleep you are getting. You want to be able to fall asleep quickly, sleep soundly and awaken energized. That means you may want to cut down on your caffeine intake, especially after breakfast. Watch out for caffeine you may not even think about, in iced tea and chocolate, for example. Practice simple meditation to help calm your mind and set your worries aside. Several times a day, sit still, breathe deeply and focus on your breath going in and out. This will do wonders for your peace of mind, reduce stress and improve your sleep.
Caregiving may be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. But you can manage it. You just want to manage it well, so you don’t need a caregiver of your own.