The importance of self-care for the caregiver

September 16, 2019
It’s not uncommon to overlook your own health when providing care to others. Here are a few ways to maintain your well-being and life balance while serving those you love.

At least one third of U.S. adults provide unpaid, informal care for an elderly, ill, or disabled family member or friend in the home. As the population ages, informal caregiving will continue to rise.

While caregiving can help strengthen connections with a close friend or loved one, it can also be overwhelming. Many caregivers hold down a full-time job, and typically receive very little training for the additional responsibility. It’s not surprising, therefore, that informal caregiving has been linked to long-term health problems — including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and excess weight— for caregivers. Those who provide informal care for loved ones with dementia or a terminal illness face added risks, such as depression, anxiety, and/or memory problems.

Many times caregivers operate under the assumption that their first priority is the person they’re caring for; however, not taking proper care of themselves can leave caregivers unable to effectively look after anyone else.

Strategies to maintain a healthy balance

Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that can help alleviate the challenges and potential health risks of informal caregiving.

  • Ask for and accept help. Take those opportunities to catch up on sleep, pursue a hobby, and keep appointments for physical or emotional wellness.
  • Recognize your contribution, and set limits. Gifts of time, effort, and support are a tremendous blessing, but we cannot be all things to all people. Let go of the guilt that comes with saying no to requests that are too much to handle alone.
  • Get connected. Take advantage of the growing number of community resources for caregivers, including transportation, meal delivery, and housekeeping. Join a caregiver’s support group for fellowship, affirmation, encouragement, and compassionate problem solving.
  • Stay healthy. Set goals for healthy eating, physical activity, and spiritual renewal. Stay up to date with preventive care, and be sure to let your doctor know if you are a caregiver.

Helpful resources

If you have medical coverage through the Board of Pensions, you can access resources through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)* to help balance work and life needs. From articles and e-learning, to checklists and seminars, caregivers will find support and useful information for a variety of situations and concerns.

To access these resources, visit myCigna.com and log in, then select Coverage and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Under About Cigna’s EAP Services, click on the Work/Life Resources link. Then, select the Aging tab, and choose Caregivers.

*The EAP is not available to members enrolled in Triple-S, GeoBlue, or the Medicare Supplement Plan.

Sources: National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP and the National Institutes of Health