How Family Caregivers Can Take Care Of Themselves

NEW YORK–It is estimated that there are more than 60 million unpaid American caregivers who tend to special needs children, older parents, or loved ones with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Experts agree caregivers need to take time to focus on their own well-being, both for themselves and those they care for.

November, designated as National Family Caregivers Month, is the ideal time to focus on caregivers. The NFCM’s goals are to celebrate, educate, and raise awareness about the issues surrounding caregiving.

Linda P. Fried, dean and DeLamar professor of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, sees caregivers as critical players in maintaining good health across the lifecourse, especially as our lifespans increase. “Family members who do double-duty as caregivers need support and encouragement for the challenging role they have taken on,” she said. “It’s important for them to understand that before they can care for anyone else, they need to care for themselves.”

Caregivers can leverage Monday as a simple, effective way to nudge themselves towards healthier behavior. A study about the Monday effect, conducted by Johns Hopkins and San Diego State University, was published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study showed that healthy thinking and behavior are synchronized to the week, with Monday being the day people are most “open to buy” health. Monday can thus be a powerful leverage to help people stay on track with their health goals.

Faced with demands on their time, caregivers often forego healthy eating and exercise. They forget that keeping themselves healthy is in their loved one’s best interest, too.
Caregiver Monday, an initiative of the nonprofit Monday Campaigns, emphasizes that key to staying healthy is for caregivers to carve out a dedicated time at the beginning of each week to focus on the tools they need to keep their healthy habits consistent.

Diana Rice, registered dietitian for The Monday Campaigns, encourages caregivers to use the following strategies to stay healthy:
• Plan to cook in batches: Home cooking takes time, but it’s one of the best ways to ensure that both you and your loved one are consistently eating healthy meals. On Monday, look at your schedule and carve out a time of the week to cook several large batches of meals that will refrigerate or freeze well for consumption later on.
• Make exercise time “me time.” Even light exercise can help you relieve stress and stay active. Each Monday, take time to plan when you’ll have time free from caregiving to go for a walk or a relaxing bike ride. To help you stick to these commitments, consider scheduling your exercise dates with friends and colleagues.