We’ve all heard the stories before.
A couple enters a caregiving situation. Eventually, the person receiving care stabilizes. But the caregiver’s health begins to worsen and decline. Rapidly, both enter a situation where they are in need of care. And in some cases, the care recipient outlives the caregiver.
Most people don’t enter a caregiving role thinking they will be putting their own health in harm’s way. Yet for most people, entering the world of caregiving puts them into a lifestyle with chronic high stress, a high risk for illness, and an ever-growing reduction in self-care leaves them vulnerable in many ways.
Caregivers tend to be big hearted. They are highly motived, extremely involved, responsible and well-intentioned. They give everything they have to the task at hand, and when something gives (and it always does) it’s usually their own health that is first in line.
If you’re used to putting the needs of everyone else ahead of your own, how can you shift?
First, understand the connection.
It may seem counterintuitive to put your own needs first when you have so much to do for the person you are providing care for. And in most cases, the a-ha moment comes from the realization when the caregiver’s own health begins suffering.
Mind and body are connected. When you experience stress, a whole lot of changes happen from head to toe. Every organ in the body is affected, and it can take shape in a variety of ways.
Caregivers are more likely than the general public to have a chronic illness and to rate their own health as fair or poor. And research shows that the longer a person maintains a caregiving role, the more likely he or she is to also report a decline in health. Risk factors include:
Heart disease – high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease all increase in a caregiving role
Depression – caregivers have a 40 to 70 percent increased rate of depression
Compromised immune system – stress lowers immunity, which is part of the reason chronic illnesses rise significantly in people in a caregiving role
Weight gain – as stress rises, so do the pounds
Sleep deprivation – sleep issues become commonplace as worry sets in
Caregiver Syndrome is real. And it can develop quickly after a diagnosis and entering a caregiving role. Is easing your stress an easy process? No. But the sooner you make your own health top priority, the more your risk factors will begin to decline.