One in seven middle-aged adults provides physical, emotional or financial support to an aging parent, child or other family member. They are unpaid and are considered the “sandwich generation” who have taken on the additional role as family caregiver.
The National Allegiance of Caregiving defines this role: “Family caregivers are responsible for the physical, emotional and often financial support of another person who is unable to care for him or herself due to illness, injury or disability. The care recipient may be a family member, life partner or friend.”
AARP estimated the economic cost in 2016 was $470 billion of uncompensated care provided by family caregivers. This “surpassed total Medicaid spending ($449 billion) and nearly equaled the annual sales ($469 billion) of the four largest U.S. tech companies combined (Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft.)”
How are family caregivers coping with this added responsibility?
Family caregivers are at increased risk for emotional and physical health problems, such as depression, heart disease and stroke. They tend to rely on unhealthy behaviors such as skipping meals and eating unhealthy food to manage their stress. Many lie awake at night, unable to have closure of their thoughts and fears. They have no exercise routine. This lifestyle has a major impact on their quality of life.
Stress intensifies feelings of worry, anxiety, guilt, loneliness, resentment and other negative emotions. It can diminish cognitive functions used to problem solve when decisions need to be made. A caregiver’s mental and emotional well-being impacts their ability to deliver quality care to their children, parents and themselves.
How are caregivers surviving?
It is easy to say take care of yourself, exercise more, get away for a few days but according to research this advice is not what caregivers want to hear. They know what they need to do. Caregivers report that they do not have the time to exercise or attend support groups. Their mind is consistently turned on, thinking of the next thing they must do.
One stress reducing activity that can be implemented immediately is to take a moment to pause, take a breath and observe it. Take time to stop what you are doing to bring awareness to your breath. Each pause can be 10 seconds, or longer. The timing is up to you and it is doable.
By pausing and becoming aware of your breathing, you are retraining your body to shift from your sympathetic nervous system, “fight or flight” adrenaline mode, to your parasympathetic nervous system that supports “rest and digest”, a healing component within your body.
In a hospital recovery unit that I worked at, brightly colored dots were placed in strategic places, on the phone and medication cabinets, to remind us to pause and take a breath. This was an effective in lowering our stress and keeping us calm and focused during work.
Below are suggestions to integrate this activity into your day
- Pause for a moment before you get out of bed and take a breath. Become aware of the air as it passes through your nose and fills your lungs. It is your breath of life. Appreciate it. This moment is about you.
- Pause before your first sip of coffee. Smell its aroma and feel the warmth in your hands. Sit and pause with your cup of coffee before you start your day. Think about how you want the next twenty-four hours to go. Consider how you can respond to the day’s events in a calm manner.
- Pause for a moment before getting out of your car. Be present of where you are going or who you are meeting.
- Pause before a meal or a bite to eat. Enjoy the smell and take time to taste each bite.
- Pause before you enter you home at the end of the day. Leave the work behind and be present to who is home to greet you. If you are alone, enjoy the peace and quiet.
- Pause before you fall asleep. Think about something you enjoyed during the day. If not, look for it.
- Pause to face your fear, your uncertainty. Move through it. Remember, it is a feeling.
In summary, pause and take a breath throughout your day. Take time for yourself.
Roe Chiacchio is a cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation RN, personal trainer and certified dementia practitioner. She integrates her background into a specialized style of training for each of her clients and shares her perspective and knowledge in her articles published at PenBay Pilot. Her business, ONWARD, Cardiovascular Heath, Wellness and Dementia Management is located in Camden, Maine. For more information, contact Roe at 207 249-8166, or roechiacchio@ gmail.com