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Health & Wellness Articles  ›  Stress Relief

Taking Care of Yourself When You Become the Caregiver

Finding Health and Balance When Caring for Others

-- By Ellen G. Goldman, Health and Wellness Coach
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As I sat across the cafe table from my dearest friend, Margie, I was struck by how tired and drawn she looked. This was the first time we had seen in each other in months. Before, we had made a point to meet for lunch or coffee once a week. Now that she had moved her folks close by to help with her father’s care after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, there never seemed to be time.
 
I listened quietly as she shared what life was like for her these days. After putting in a full day of work as a teacher, many afternoons she drove 25 minutes to the assisted-living facility to handle the day’s crisis or just to give her mother a break. Margie feared her mother was showing signs of being clinically depressed, so she planned to accompany her to a psychological evaluation on Saturday.
 
Admitting to her intense feelings of anger—at the situation, at her sister who lived on the other side of the country, at her husband who couldn’t understand when she felt too tired to go out on a Saturday night—she felt guilty for feeling angry. Having abandoned her own exercise program, she now had flare-ups of chronic back pain from lifting and moving her dad when he refused to do it himself. I could see her disappointment in the many pounds that she had gained, after working so hard the year before to lose them.
 
Margie is certainly not alone in experiencing the burden and stress of the caregiver role. I reflected back on my own experience caring for my folks the year my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and my mother fell, breaking her arm, while visiting him in the hospital. That was a long, hard winter for my siblings and me, as we traveled back and forth to Florida to help them set up the ongoing care they would need when we were not around.
 
Finding Support
Thrust into a position of attending to an elderly and/or disabled loved one, caregivers often sacrifice their own physical and emotional needs. Feelings of anger, anxiety, stress, isolation, exhaustion and guilt are all too common--not to mention the increased risk for health problems such as headaches, digestive distress, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, weight gain and depression.
 
Research has shown that these symptoms are even more pronounced in those caring for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s. What Margie and her mother were experiencing is certainly understandable.
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About The Author

Ellen Goldman Ellen Goldman
Ellen Goldman has bachelor's and master's degrees in health and physical education. An AFAA-certified personal trainer and certified wellness coach, she is also the founder EnerG Coaching, LLC. Through one-on-one and group sessions, Ellen helps individuals make positive lifestyle changes, lose weight, manage stress and attain work-life balance. Visit her at www.EnerGcoaching.com.

Member Comments

  • As caregiver to my mother and my son who has Autism, it's easier said than done. - 4/26/2014 9:52:32 AM
  • I am not a caregiver but I do know that you have to take time for yourself. If not you will wear your on body down. Good article. - 11/10/2013 7:43:06 PM
  • This article has some excellent points, I recently became my mother's caregiver. The hardest thing really is keeping up on an exercise program; I can't leave her to take a run or even go into the basement to work out (she is on hospice care). I've been doing yoga a couple times a day, but I think I'm going to have to start strongly requesting regular help from my cousins and her siblings. I do appreciate the reminder that I need to take care of me too. - 9/13/2013 1:20:26 PM
  • I am taking care of my husband & I have no time for myself.
    Great article. - 6/28/2013 11:16:35 PM
  • Thank you for this excellent article and reminder for us caregivers (or, in my case, former caregivers)...and
    , anyone who is a caregiver would be welcome to join us on the caregiver support team!!! - 6/26/2013 12:20:46 AM
  • I took care of my parents for about 8 years between the two of them. It was hard and sometimes I resented the time I lost attending to my own life for taking care of them. I lost my job during that time. My children finished growing up with a part, part-time mom (I worked full time too.) My marriage suffered.

    But, we made it and I now have no regrets for the time I spent with them--it was the last years I would ever be with them again. Although it was difficult, we made it through intact and I have a wonderful family with responsible adult children, and my marriage survived despite the difficulties.

    I utilized home health, family, church family, friends and neighbors to help in their care. It still took it's toll, but with a proper balance of help, support, and realistic choices -- it can be done.

    Good article! - 6/25/2013 11:00:39 PM
  • This article strikes such a chord! Thanks for the reminder to look after myself first. - 6/25/2013 2:45:55 PM
  • GENERIC-FIT
    I need this article now more than ever. My mom has been diagnosed with dementia, specifically Alzheimer's. She's in the early stages and we're trying to get the long term outlook taken care of. I'm thankful for my family and support, but since I live with my mom and it's just the two of us, it isn't easy. - 6/25/2013 5:35:51 AM
  • I saved my dad twice from respiratory failure I'm his medical proxy, my brothers made things more difficult and my dad is very stubborn. The stress put on me was tremendous after him screaming at me in front of a visiting nurse and making a fool out of me for the last time after me trying to get in help for him ( I have fibro and it was taking it's toll on my own health) I had to just walk away. I love my dad but he's very difficult and was literally making me sick.
    I realized that I can't feel guilty I went above and beyond what any of my siblings would of ever done with no appreciation.
    The nurses and doctors told me that I shouldn't put up with his demanding ways in my condition when he didn't even appreciate it and that I should walk away before I ended up in the ground before him.
    It's a very dysfunctional family, now that he's all better for now he doesn't even know me that's the thanks I got for all my sacrifices.... - 6/5/2013 12:27:48 AM