According to a 2020 report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than 1 in 5 adults– a total of 53 million adult Americans– are now unpaid family caregivers. With the baby boomer generation aging, the number of caregivers has increased by 9.5 million adults who provide assistance on everything from grocery shopping to wound care to medication management (AARP). Family caregiving usually involves tasks above and beyond assisting with activities of daily living, like bathing, preparing meals, dressing, but also medical tasks that would typically be performed by a nurse. While family caregiving is a rewarding experience, it also brings about challenges that can make caregivers feel overwhelmed, anxious, and burned out. With National Friendship Day (July 30th) and National Relaxation Day (August 15th) this summer, it is the perfect prescription to find time for some caregiver self-care. After all, taking care of ourselves helps us support the people we love.
The Importance of Friendships for Our Wellbeing
Whether they are old or new, friends are precious resources. Being a caregiver can be an isolating experience, and those who do not serve as caregivers in our support system may struggle to understand what is happening. Some caregivers may struggle to find the time to maintain their social connections outside of home, making the feelings of isolation grow stronger. But are friendships a key to a longer life? Harvard Women’s Health Watch released a study revealing that strong social connections can improve health and increase longevity. Friendships are just as important to overall quality of life as choosing not to smoke, eat a healthy diet, and exercising. Researchers found that people who had satisfying relationships in their life were happier, better adjusted and balanced, had fewer health problems, and indeed lived longer.
How to build and strengthen friendships as a caregiver
- Find those who you want to surround yourself with. Caregivers need someone who can listen to how their day went, offer emotional support, give them an occasional break from the everyday tasks of caregiving, and help them escape the feelings of loneliness and isolation. It is important to have someone you can express feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, and other common feelings that are encountered during a caregiving journey without judgment. Whether it be finding time to catch up with an old friend over coffee or building friendships with other caregivers that you have met in your community, it is about finding a true confidant–someone you trust who you can be your true, authentic self around.
- Dedicate time to get out of the house. While this is not always an easy task as a full-time caregiver, it is essential to engage yourself. Start thinking about things you’d like to do or would like to learn. Do you enjoy reading? Join a book club at your local library. Want to try crocheting, knitting, or some other artistic activity? There is most likely a club or group for those as well. You do not have to commit to these groups or activities, but sharing a hobby you enjoy with others can foster connections and friendships. There are also other options such as attending church or volunteering in your community. Not only do these activities nourish you spiritually, but it can also provide comfort and companionship.
How Do I Find the Time to Relax?
Relaxation time is a luxury that few caregivers find time to enjoy. While finding spare time on a busy day of caregiving is a feat, being able to actually relax during a break can be an even bigger challenge. However, it is important for maintaining our mental, physical, and emotional health. When we fail to obtain the rest our bodies require, every aspect of our day-to-day lives will suffer. According to a study done by Oregon Health and Science University, research suggests that people who regularly practice relaxation see better immune system outcomes. The reasons for these improvements vary, with rest influencing everything from lowered blood pressure to better quality of sleep.
Breaking out of caregiver mode
- Asking for help is OK. It’s not easy to admit, but we all need help at some point in our lives. And never more so than when you become a family caregiver. When it comes to accepting help, put away any guilt or embarrassment you might be carrying around and feeling. By taking care of yourself, you will be giving yourself more energy to care for your loved one.
- Remember your role outside of caregiving. Whether you’re the care recipient’s child, spouse, or parent, it is important to not abandon that role. For example, if you are a caregiver for your father, it is important to occasionally break away from the caregiver role and be present with him as a daughter.
Nourishing ourselves allows us to provide the best care possible to our loved ones. With National Friendship Day and National Relaxation Day this summer, it makes the perfect prescription for caregiver self-care: finding time for emotionally supportive relationships and time to relax and take a breather.
About the author:
Jennah Worthington is a Brand Ambassador Intern for illuminate.health and is a rising senior studying Healthcare & Business at Butler University. She has a passion for the pharmaceutical industry and gaining a deeper understanding of the roles of health providers, insurers, and administrators. She strives to help find ways to increase accessibility in various areas of healthcare. Jennah resides in Indianapolis and enjoys going on walks with her Dalmatian.