Happy National Caregivers Month! In the US alone, more than 40 million people provide care for a loved one. Caregiving can be a difficult, timeconsuming, and taxing job—often unpaid and under-appreciated. In the month of November, we take the time to recognize and honor the efforts of caregivers around the world!

If you or someone you love is a caregiver, remember that their role can play a significant factor in their overall physical and mental health. Research shows a range of negative effects on health and well-being. For example, caregivers are more likely to have chronic illnesses than non-caregivers. Additionally, many caregivers suffer from anxiety and depression.

Let National Caregivers Month serve as a reminder that you need to learn how to care for yourself, especially before you can care for others. Not sure where to start? Here are eight tips to jump-start your self-care practice.

   1. Ask for and Accept Help

Accept help when offered, and more importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Caregivers often feel they should be able to do everything by themselves. However, caregiving should not be a one-person job. It’s okay to ask for help from family or friends. To be proactive, prepare a list of specific ways that others can chip in. Taking your loved one for a short walk, picking up a few groceries, or making a meal are just a few ideas. Whatever the needed tasks may be, don’t wait until you experience caregiver burnout, and your own health suffers. 

   2. Join a Caregiver’s Support Group

Consider joining a support group targetted towards people caring for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. These groups meet online, in-person, or over the phone. Groups and participants provide support, shared experiences, and caregiving tips. You’ll likely find comfort knowing that you’re not in this alone or get a laugh just when you need it most. 

Vineyard Henderson hosts Dementia Support Groups, to learn more check out our news and events page

   3. Take Breaks from Caregiving

Try not to let your loved one always take center stage, but instead find time to get your mind off caregiving responsibilities. Go to the movies or read a book. To avoid feeling lonely or isolated, stay socially connected with friends. Consider taking advantage of respite care so that you can do something you enjoy. Respite care offers a brief break, while the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s continues to receive quality care in a safe environment. 

    4. Exercise Regularly

The benefits of exercise are vast and can extend into your caregiver role. Just to name a few, exercise reduces depression, increases alertness, and promotes better sleep. Finding time to work out as a full-time caregiver may be difficult. Try fitting exercise into short periods: a few ten-minute workouts are just as good as a longer span of activity. Alternatively, you may have your loved one participate in the activity with you. Yoga, stretching, or a walk outside can be beneficial to you both. No matter the exercise, physical activity in any form can improve your overall health and well-being. 

   5. Attend to Your Own Healthcare Needs

Caregivers often spend time at a doctor’s office for their loved one’s appointments. However, making time for your own appointments is just as important. Find a physician you can trust, and build a partnership that addresses all of your healthcare needs.

Besides establishing an exercise routine, getting adequate sleep and nutrition are vital to your health and role as a caregiver. Aim to eat a balanced diet each day and make sleep a priority. Your caregiving will certainly suffer due to exhaustion, hunger, or inadequate personal care. Discuss any chronic dietary or sleep issues promptly with your physician. 

   6. Be an Educated Caregiver

As your loved one progresses, new caregiving skills may be necessary. Learn everything you can about dementia and Alzheimer’s so that you can communicate well with healthcare providers and prepare for the future. Being knowledgeable and prepared will aid in your role as a caregiver. There are numerous resources available both off and online to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors that accompany Alzheimer’s:

   7. Utilize Relaxation Techniques

There is no doubt that caregiving is both emotional and stressful. It’s important to identify, acknowledge, and cope with your various emotions. Likewise, it’s also critical to identify stressors and find techniques that help lessen your anxiety. 

Take a walk, get a massage, hop into a relaxing bath, or grab a coffee with a friend. Several other relaxation techniques that can help you gain a sense of control at any time include:

Try out several relaxation tools or techniques to find what works for you. Then, make it a habit to practice them regularly.

Read more about the role mindfulness and meditation can play in senior care. 

   8. Seek Professional Help

Your mental health should be of top priority to you. There’s no shame in seeking help from a mental health professional, especially if you struggle with extreme stress, anxiety, or depression. A counselor can help you understand emotions associated with caregiving, such as anger, sadness, and lack of control. They can also help you better cope and make plans for the future. Ask your physician for recommendations and check with your health insurance to find a provider that works for you.

This National Caregivers Month, Focus on Your Own Needs

In no way is it selfish to focus on your own needs when you’re a caregiver. Instead, caring for yourself—both physically and mentally—is one of the most important things you can do. Don’t sacrifice your health and well-being in your role as a caregiver. Take time during National Caregivers Month to care for yourself; both you and your loved one will benefit. 

Remember, self-care is essential all-year-round, not just in November, especially as the holidays roll around!