November is National Family Caregivers Month. Each year, the Caregiver Action Network leads a campaign to recognize, honor, and help support family caregivers across the United States.
- If you're a caregiver, you know that caring for an aging parent, an ill spouse, a child with special needs, or another loved one faced with a health issue, can be all-consuming. What steps could you take this month to make your own health a priority, too? See below for ideas.
- Are you a new caregiver? It's a big responsibility, but don't let it overwhelm you. Check out the Caregiver Action Network's tips for family caregivers and BHA’s advice on making decisions as a caregiver.
- Not a caregiver? Check in with the caregivers in your social circle and ask how things are going. The hard work that caregivers do is often overlooked, so let them know that you appreciate their efforts.
Why Self-Care Is Crucial for Caregivers
Family caregivers are often so focused on their loved one's care that they ignore their own needs—and that takes a toll on their physical and mental health. According to a 2020 study from the National Alliance for Caregiving, 23% of caregivers report that caregiving has made their own health worse. A separate study found that 70% of family caregivers surveyed in 2020 and 2021 reported adverse mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
Caregiving can be very stressful. If you or someone you love is struggling to balance their caregiving efforts with their own needs, start with these steps:
How to Lower Your Stress Level as a Caregiver
1. Plan ahead.
Make sure you have up-to-date information on your patient’s prognosis and healthcare needs, now and in the future. If a doctor expects you to provide follow-up treatments at home, such as giving injections, ask for training so you can do them properly.
2. If you need help, ask for it.
Don’t feel guilty if you can’t do everything yourself. Recognize that you are in a difficult situation, and be willing to accept help from others. Reach out to friends and family members and let them know how they can lighten your load. You may also want to consider respite care.
3. Connect with others.
Expand your social circle by joining support groups locally and/or online. Check in regularly with other caregivers who understand what you’re going through and can share what they’ve learned. If you experience depression or anxiety, talk to a therapist.
4. Make time for your own needs.
Taking time for yourself isn’t selfish—it’s what enables you to keep going. Be sure you’re eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Don’t give up on your social life, because spending time with friends is good for your mental health.
If you need additional support as a caregiver or help managing your own care, reach out to an expert health advisor.