Heart health tips and resources for taking care of the caregiver
This article is provided by Heart & Stroke.
Being a caregiver for someone you love who is living with the effects of heart disease or stroke can be a loving, rewarding experience. Still, it is often a challenging road that can take a significant physical, mental and emotional toll. As a caregiver, you may find you start to put your self-care second. This could result in not getting enough sleep, physical activity, or a balanced nutrition. You may feel lonely, guilty or frustrated, or you may experience stress, anxiety or depression, all of which can have an impact on your long-term health.
About 8 million Canadians over the age of 15 act as voluntary caregivers, and more than 2/3 of them are women, often belonging to the sandwich generation (caring for children while also caring for an older relative). It’s easy to see that formal and informal supports for these caregivers can only have a positive ripple effect in their own lives and the wider community.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the signs of caregiver stress, as well as resources and self-care ideas for caregivers.
Signs of caregiver stress
If you or someone in your life is a caregiver, here are some signs of caregiver stress to watch for:
- Feeling tired often
- Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
- Feeling overwhelmed or sad
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
- Gaining or losing weight
- Being quick to become angry or irritated
- Frequent headaches or other physical problems
Heart & Stroke resources for caregivers
Different caregivers have different needs. These Heart & Stroke resources may be helpful in finding specific answers or a way to connect with likeminded people.
- Visit the Caregiver Support page for a list of national and local resources
- Get online peer support from other caregivers by joining the Heart & Stroke Care Supporters’ Community (hosted on Facebook)
- View a webinar on the complexities of caregiving during COVID
- Listen to The Beat podcast for a special episode focused on caregiving
- Sign up for the Community Connect newsletter
Caregivers know that self-care is important, but often face demands on time and finances, depending on the level of care required. However, nourishing your own self is an essential part of being a resilient caregiver. Here are some ideas to keep in mind.
Work together to meet goals
If you’re part of a couple, know that research shows working together is healthy for both the caregiver and the recipient when it comes to reaching goals like healthy eating, active living, and quitting smoking.
Eating a variety of foods every day is a great way to maintain your strength, energy and overall health. When making your meals, look for balance by filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit, a quarter with grains and a quarter with protein.
You can find a variety of delicious, nutritious recipes and meal ideas from Heart & Stroke at the links below. Or search for “caregiver recipes” online to discover some ideas that other caregivers find work for them.
Physical activity like walking, yoga, swimming or anything else you enjoy is a wonderful way to decrease stress, improve your outlook and stay healthy. Ten minutes, several times a day, can go a long way to making you feel revitalized. Check out these ideas from Heart & Stroke to build more physical activity into your life.
A good night’s sleep is challenging for many for a variety of reasons but can make all the difference for caregiver health and self-care. There are some steps you can take to set yourself up for success:
- Why is sleep important for your heart health?
- Tips for managing sleep problems from Heart & Stroke
- How much sleep should you get each night as you age?
Keep health care appointments for yourself
While taking your loved one to appointments may be part of your caretaking role, it’s essential not to skip your own health appointments, including dental care and regular health screenings. If time is tight, a virtual appointment may be helpful, and studies show they are generally as effective and useful as an in-person appointment (depending on your situation, of course). Talk to your health care provider about your options.
Time for yourself
Downtime may feel like a luxury you can’t manage when you’re a caregiver, but time to yourself is vital for mental health, whether it’s connecting with friends or taking part in a hobby or social activity. Check with your local caregiver supports or community groups to see if respite care is available or see if friends and family can assist with other tasks, like food shopping, errands, meal prep or transportation.
Ask for and let others help
Caregiving can be overwhelming, and you don’t have to do it alone. In fact, research shows helping makes others feel good (and may even help their health) – so don’t be afraid to ask and accept help. Sometimes others just don’t know how to help so consider writing down a list of what needs to be done, as it can help you have an answer at the ready when someone asks, “what can I do?”
Bottom line – be mindful of the stress and impact caregivers face. Watch for signs and symptoms of fatigue and burnout and find ways to embrace and support caregiver self-care.
© Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2023. | ™The heart and / Icon on its own and the heart and / Icon followed by another icon or words are trademarks of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada used under license.
Other resources you may be interested in:
- Episode 1: Better than drinking from the fountain of youth (podcast)
- Episode 2: Is sleep the key to living a long life? (podcast)
- Episode 3: Can physical activity slow the decline of aging? (podcast)
- Episode 4: Aging, anxiety, and the effects of stress on the body (podcast)
- Episode 5: The power and science of building healthy habits (podcast)
- Episode 6: What does it mean to live a long, healthy life? (podcast)
- Episode 7: Is meditation the key to feeling youthful? (podcast)
- Episode 10: The sandwich generation: How family caregiving impacts health & longevity (podcast)