SEATTLE, April 6, 2023 – Caring for a loved one who has suffered a heart attack or stroke can be a full-time job. Often, family caregivers prioritize the health and wellbeing of the person in recovery over their own health. The American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, is encouraging caregivers to carve out time for themselves too, even in small amounts, to avoid burnout.
“Caring for yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver,” said Dr. Nicole Saint Clair, executive medical director for Regence BlueShield and volunteer expert for the American Heart Association. “Burnout – both physical and emotional - is real. And you can’t effectively support someone else if you are not taking time for you.”
It’s important for all of us to check in on those caring for family members and ask questions about their own health and well-being in addition to those they are caring for.
“Caregivers have their own lives and needs,” Dr. Saint Clair said. “It’s easy for the focus to be on someone who is ill or in need of support, but we can’t forget about the whole family.”
April is Move More Month and a time when the American Heart Association encourages everyone to get active to support whole body wellness. Caregivers are no exception. Below are 10 ideas to support caregivers in making their own health and well-being a priority:
- Get regular physical activity. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity — even in small increments — can boost energy levels. Exercise reduces stress, helps maintain a healthy weight, and can help keep blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels.
- Maintain a heart-healthy diet. A healthy diet will give you more energy. Eating well can help prevent other health problems, too.
- Make time for yourself. Take time every day for an activity that is enjoyable, such as walking, reading, crafts, cooking or listening to music.
- Keep humor in your life. Laughter is good medicine. Watch a silly TV program or go to a movie that makes you laugh.
- Get out and about. At least once a week, break out of the routine and go somewhere enjoyable. If your loved one needs constant attention, ask for help.
- Watch out for depression. The demands placed on caregivers can be difficult and stressful. If signs of depression are noticed, consult a health care professional. Often, depression can be managed with talk therapy or medication.
- Take care of business. Keep finances in check, work when needed and don’t stop planning for the future. If you allow yourself to be totally immersed in the caregiver responsibilities, it can be harder to re-integrate into life later on.
- Keep medical and dental appointments. Make and keep all wellness visits to support health. If a caregiver falls ill, they won’t be able to care of their loved one.
- Think positive. Take time every day to refresh your mind. Recognize your limitations and make peace with them. Let go of guilt. Pat yourself on the back for the job you’re doing. If you’re feeling guilty or angry, take a break.
- Stay connected with the outside world. Don’t allow yourself to become isolated. Stay connected with family and friends, even if it’s just by phone or online. Talk to friends about something other than your role as a caregiver.
“Consider giving a caregiver a break to refresh and recharge,” Dr. Saint Clair said. “Taking over for an hour or two allows a caregiver the chance to participate in an activity or hobby they enjoy.”
The American Heart Association’s Support Network helps caregivers connect with others performing the same role. Visit supportnetwork.heart.org for information and to connect.
Regence BlueShield is a proud local sponsor of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement.
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.
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