Taking on duties as carer is an often underappreciated feat. Many carers are unpaid family members who sacrifice their free time and wellbeing to help those they love.
In Australia, there are about 2.7 million unpaid carers. Carers Australia estimates that the time and contributions of unpaid carers have a replacement value of about $60.3 billion, demonstrating that carers are truly an invaluable asset, helping to foster love and health in those they serve.
And while caring for someone who cannot care for him or herself is truly a selfless service, carers must also remember to include self-care.
Caregiving is a labour of love, but it is also burdensome and stressful, contributing to psychiatric morbidity and compromised physiological functioning. In fact, a study published by the US National Library of Medicine found that carers have a 63% higher mortality risk than non-carers.
But, why is that and what can we do about it?
Effects of Caregiving on Mental and Physical Health
Researchers found that due to loss, prolonged distress, physical demands, and biological vulnerability associated with caregiving, carers are more likely to experience negative effects on their mental and physical health. In addition to these outside factors that affect carers’ health, researchers also found that carers are more likely to neglect their own health by missing doctors appointments and eating poor diets.
As a result, carers suffer from higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and other ailments and diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
The risks of suffering from adverse health effects due to caregiving are even higher if the carer is a woman—and more than 66% of Aussie caregivers are women.
In knowing and understanding the health factors associated with being a carer, you can be proactive in taking care of yourself to ensure your ability to continue to help others.
How to Overcome Effects Associated with Caregiving
While it is easy to get consumed in caring for a loved one, it’s important to take care of yourself first—not only for YOU, but for your loved one, too. Follow these tips to help reduce the health risks associated with caregiving.
1) Reduce stress
Stress can be all consuming and have serious negative health consequences.
With that, being a carer can be particularly stressful if you’re not formally trained.
But, while you may not be a professional nurse, you can learn the best caregiving techniques by talking to a healthcare professional or by joining a community support group.
Learning the best caregiving practices will help lower your stress by raising your confidence and making your daily routines run more smoothly.
Having outlets and real people to discuss issues with can help you improve your practices, while offering a sounding board of people who understand and can truly empathise with your situation.
In addition, support from others can help to keep lonely feelings at bay, which are commonly felt by carers—if this is you, you’re not alone.
2) Set Goals
Setting goals is important in all facets of your life, but it is invaluable as a carer.
By setting goals, you can create benchmarks for you and your loved one to achieve together. Goals can provide you with a sense of:
- Clarity and focus
- Better time management
- Peace of mind
- Measurable results
These benefits will also help you manage your stress and give you a sense of accomplishment as you achieve various goals.
Some ideas for goals as a carer are:
- Going through piled up paperwork
- Starting a new healthy meal plan for you and your loved one
- Sorting through old medication
Like setting goals, communication is a normal part of everyday life. Effective communication can help make daily interactions and tasks easier and more productive.
The same principles apply when caregiving.
It is important to communicate effectively with the loved one in your care. He or she should be aware of your goals and your daily routines. They should also understand their care plan. Try to facilitate a channel of open communication with your loved one and you will likely notice increased cooperation and a smoother caregiving experience.
It is also important to be able to communicate with doctors about your loved one’s care. Feel empowered to ask questions and request further clarification if you don’t understand something. Remember that you are your loved one’s first line of defense and it’s important that you understand their medical treatment, that it makes sense to you, and that you feel confident about it.
4) Ask For and Accept Help
In the same light as communication, it is important to know when you need help as a caregiver. With that, also be willing to ask for it.
Be proactive if you can. Reach out as soon as you realise you need help, or see a need for help in the future. Doing so can help you better prioritise and cope with the demands associated with caregiving. It will also give those around you a sense of what you are going through and allow them to plan to help as well.
Instead, try to foresee issues and incorporate assistance for those available into your routine and goals.