*The following articles are referenced from P.H.D.,
Schmall, Vicki, R.N., Cleland, Marilyn and R.N.,
M.S.W., L.C.S.W. Sturdevant, Marilyn. The Caregiver
Helpbook Powerful Tools for Caregiving, Nov., 2002.
Basic Wellness Practices
It is vital to maintain your health and well being. Ask
yourself the following questions in the box below.
If you answered “yes” to all of these questions,
congratulate yourself. A “no” response reflects areas to
work on for better health.
Proper diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise are
necessary for all of us, and even more so when we are
caregivers. These lifestyle factors increase our
resistance to illness and our ability to cope with stressful
Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and
depression, and increases energy and alertness. If
finding time to exercise is a problem, try to incorporate it
into your usual day. Perhaps the person receiving care
can walk or do stretching exercises with you. If
necessary, do frequent short exercises instead of using
large blocks of time. Find activities you enjoy.
Walking is considered one of the best and easiest
exercises. It helps to reduce psychological tension as
well as having physical benefits. Walking 20 minutes a
day, three times a week, is very beneficial. If you can’t
be away 20 minutes, 10 minute walks twice a day or
even a 5 minute walk are beneficial.
Work walking into your life. Walk whenever and
wherever you can. Perhaps it is easiest to walk around
your block, at the mall, or a nearby park. The next time a
friend or family member comes to visit, take time for a
short walk. When the care receiver is getting therapy,
take a walk around the medical facility.
To be an effective caregiver you need to maintain your
own health and spirit, and to nurture yourself. All too
often caregivers put their own needs last. Studies show
that sacrificing yourself in giving care to another can
lead to emotional exhaustion, depression and illness.
Maintaining your health and spirit can reduce your level
of stress. It is critical to find activities that help you to
stay healthy and nurture yourself. These activities are
different for each individual. What works for one person
may not work for another. You must find stress-reducing
methods that work best for you.
We can learn a lot from a self-care program in Florida
called “Getting Well.” This is a group of people who are
supporting each other in learning to live and feel better.
They take part in life-affirming activities such as
“laughing, juggling, playing, meditating, painting, journal
writing, exercising and eating nutritiously.” They
demonstrate the necessity of associating with others
who help you maintain your spirit and help you feel
loved and supported.
To manage stress, it is essential to take breaks from
caregiving. Plan them into your schedule, starting
immediately, if you have not done so already. Studies
show that caregivers often don’t take breaks until they
are at the “end of their rope” or “burned out.”
This serves no one’s best interest as your ability to
function can be seriously affected. To avoid problems, it
is your responsibility to take time off from caregiving to
It is important to the well being of care receivers that you
take breaks. If you don’t, they may become increasingly
dependent on you. If you take breaks, they will be less
isolated and will benefit from having contact with other
people. They also need breaks from you.
You are responsible for your own self-care. Practicing
self-care means that you:
Reflect on what it means to practice self-care. Consider
the items above. How do you fare? Are you caring for
yourself as well as you are caring for another?
Remember, it is only when we love and nurture
ourselves that we are able to love and nurture another.
- Learn and use stress reduction techniques;
- Attend to your own health care needs;
- Get proper rest and nutrition;
- Exercise regularly;
- Take time off without feeling guilty;
- Participate in pleasant, nurturing activities.
- Reward yourself.
- Seek and accept the support of others.
- Seek supportive counseling when you need to, or talk
with a trusted counselor, religious advisor, or friend.
- Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
- Tell others what you need. Don’t assume “they
- Change the negative ways you view situations.
- Set goals and prioritize.
As a caregiver, appreciation and “thank you’s” for what
you do may be lacking. For example, a person with
Alzheimer’s disease may be unable to show
appreciation for what is done. Everyone has a need for
approval. It motivates us to keep going. If you don’t
receive appreciation from other people, find a way to
give it to yourself.
What would be helpful for you? Consider the following
- Acknowledge and take satisfaction in those things
you do well.
- Reward yourself on a regular basis.
- Involve yourself in an activity that will provide
The Stress of Caregiving
There has been so much written about stress it has
become a household word. Studies show that a certain
amount of stress is helpful. It can challenge us to
change and motivate us to do things we might not do
otherwise. However, when the amount of stress
overwhelms our ability to cope with it, we feel “distress”
According to Webster’s Dictionary, distress is “suffering
of mind or body, severe physical or mental strain.” As a
caregiver, you no doubt have increased stress in your
life, whether you are caring for a mother with early
Parkinson’s disease, who is still able to care for her
personal needs, or a spouse who doesn’t recognize you
because of advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
Each caregiving situation is unique. What is stressful for
you may not be stressful for someone else. In his book,
The Survivor Personality, Al Seibert says, “there is no
stress until you feel a strain.” Since the feeling of stress
is subjective and unique to each individual, it is difficult
to define objectively. The stress you feel is not only the
result of your caregiving situation, it is also your
perception of it. Your stress will increase or decrease
depending on how you perceive your circumstances,
and your perception will affect how you respond.
Factors That Affect Stress
Your level of stress is influenced by many factors,
- whether your caregiving is voluntary or not;
- your relationship with the care receiver;
- your coping abilities; and
- whether support is available.