Caregiver Stress and Heart Disease Risk
Who Will Care for Others if You Don’t Care for Yourself?
- You cancel your Monday card game—again—because your husband had a bad weekend and you just can’t leave him today.
- His medications are complicated, and you realize you’re out of one he really needs to take on time.
- Your daughter is coming to help, but you fear another session of finding fault with you.
You know the feeling: your heart pounds, your palms sweat, your clench your jaw or think dire, unspeakable thoughts. You’re stressed, and you're putting your heart at risk.
Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your health and your heart: damage to artery walls and immune system, headaches and stomach aches, stress hormones racing through your bloodstream and more. Not only can stress make you sick, it can affect how you care for others, how you react to routine situations, how you live your life.
But if you're like most caregivers, you rarely acknowledge your own internal stress or take a five-minute break to breathe deeply.
Instead, you bake a cake—and then eat a third of it. Or give yourself permission to have two drinks before dinner. Or smoke when no one is looking. Or just stay awake all night watching old movies, too tired to do anything but zone out.
In other words, it's quite possible you're sabotaging yourself, compounding your stress by making poor choices. They may feel good in the moment, but your choices are probably not helping you do what you must accomplish or solving your problem in any meaningful way.
Caring for Yourself
But if you don't take care of yourself and that heart of yours, or if you're suffering from caregiver burnout, you won’t be around to care for or love the people who rely on you.
Tips for Caregiver Success
It’s time for a heart-to-heart about the health of your heart, courtesy of the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Family Caregivers Association.
- Take charge of your life. Don’t let your loved one’s condition always take center stage.
- Love, honor and value yourself. You’re doing a very hard job; you deserve quality time just for you.
- Watch for signs of depression; get professional help sooner rather than later.When people offer to help, say yes! Prioritize and delegate when people ask what they can do.
- Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition. Being prepared for unexpected situations is empowering.
- Be open to new technologies and ideas that promote your loved one’s independence and help you do your job more easily.
- Trust your instincts. Most of the time they’ll lead you in the right direction.
- If you feel close to losing your temper or lashing out, take a moment to slow down and breathe. Walk away, even if only for 5 minutes, to regain your composure and cool down.
- Live in the moment. Embrace the good days and let go of the bad ones.
- Connect with people who share similar struggles. There is great strength in knowing you are not alone.
You're not alone. There are people to share with, to advise and educate you. Information is a click away. Here’s a start: AHA Support Network