It’s well known that too much stress can be bad for your health.
For older adults, changes in relationships, living situations, and to the body and mind, can cause a lot of stress. “Physical issues, social isolation, stress, and untreated mental health conditions can contribute to serious health problems, including heart disease, depression, and substance abuse,” says Leslie Minna, Psy.D, InnovAge’s national director of behavioral healthcare services.
Caring for aging family members, often in addition to full or part-time jobs and possibly caring for children, can be a challenge for caregivers.
“Good health includes self-care,” says Peter Cruz, behavioral health care manager at InnovAge’s PACE center in San Bernardino, California. “Caregivers often forget to take time for themselves,” he says, echoing research that shows an increasing number of Americans (23% in 2020) report caregiving has made their own health worse – up from 17% in 2015.
“It’s one of the most important things people can do. When you set time aside for your own needs, those you love and care for will benefit, too.”
Here are some other suggestions to reduce stress and improve your health:
- Take News – and Social Media – Breaks. Repeatedly hearing or reading about COVID-19 and other world events can be upsetting. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to the news, including social media. According to AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 study, caregivers of older adults who use social media more than others are more likely to report feeling alone, “suggesting that in-person social interaction outside of the caregiver-care recipient relationship may be important to prevent social isolation.”
- Maintain Personal Health. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, well-balanced meals, and drink plenty of water. Take a walk outside or do some gardening. Yoga is another way to help manages stress, depression, and anxiety.
- Make Time to Unwind. Participate in activities you enjoy such as crafting, reading, or listening to music. “I use a travel version of Mind Benders with a variety of puzzles and skill levels that I pull out when I am sitting in the park or waiting for an appointment,” said Minna. Writing in a journal, meditating, or practicing breathing exercises can also be beneficial.
- Stay Connected. Take time to connect – in person, through email, or on the phone – with family and friends. “Both physical activity and staying socially connected play a critical role in holistic health,” Minna says. “It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Simply enjoying fresh air and sunlight with another person may help to boost your mood.”
- Seek Help. The AARP study shows only 13 percent of caregivers to adults over 50 had a healthcare provider ask them what they need to care for themselves. In other words, don’t wait for your doctor to ask how you are. Seek help if you need it – by asking friends or family for help with caregiving tasks to find some time for yourself. If you need immediate help with a mental health concern, call one of the free 24/7 hotlines available nationwide.