According to a survey by AARP, in 2013, about 40 million Americans served as unpaid family caregivers, often while working or going to school. The survey estimates that these caregivers spend an average of 18 hours per week performing their caregiving duties—which can include anything from watching over the finances, to seeing to it that pills are taken, to cooking, bathing, and cleaning.
All of these caregivers will feel the inescapable stress of the job. Some end up feeling depressed, overwhelmed, and resentful and may even develop their own health problems. Others will find that caring for another provides them with a deep sense of enrichment. They feel satisfaction, knowing that they are meeting challenges and having a positive impact on the health and well-being of their family member. Is there something to be learned from the way these people approach caregiving? What are the secrets of these successful caregivers?
The simple act of staying positive can have a major impact on emotional and physical health, keeping stress and the havoc it wreaks at bay. Successful caregivers manage to look on the bright side of their daily challenges. They may find humor in their work, show compassion, take pride in what they are doing, and incorporate healthy strategies into their day.
Caregivers have a lot to keep track of. Successful caregivers know that having a system to respond to daily priorities, as well as the emergencies, can reduce stress and free up time for things they enjoy. These caregivers stay on the ball with master folders and emergency contacts lists to keep vital information at their fingertips; they use family calendars to keep everyone in the loop; they find ways to ensure medications are taken; and they take time to plan and set realistic goals for what they must accomplish.
Successful caregivers know that they are an indispensable member of the health care team. They do their best to learn about their loved one’s medical condition. Some may research medical information online. Others make the most of medical appointments by asking the right questions. These caregivers often grow into the role of patient advocate: making sure their family member is getting regular check-ups and seeing specialists when necessary; checking for possible side effects from medications; and alerting health care workers of any changes they notice at home.
Caregivers often forget to take care of themselves, which can make them vulnerable to a number of health problems. Successful caregivers understand that caring for themselves is another part of the job. They manage to carve out time to do something they enjoy, whether it’s a night out with friends or a night in with a good book. Some might work with their boss to adopt a more flexible work schedule or to see what benefits might be available to lessen their load. Most combat stress and anxiety with relaxation techniques like meditation, exercise, and healthy eating. They get regular check-ups to ensure their health is on track. And, perhaps most importantly, they reach out when they need to—enlisting the help of family, friends, care professionals, and support services. All of these things allow them to experience the emotional rewards and lasting benefits of caring for another.