As the primary caregiver of your loved one with diabetes, one of the best things you can do for them is take care of yourself because caregivers are prone to burnout. According to a 2003 study by the American Association of Retired People (AARP), being a caregiver makes those who carry the heaviest responsibilities vulnerable to risk associated with poorer health, emotional stress, and economic hardship. So in the course of taking care of your loved one, be sure to make time for you, as caring for yourself enables you to better care for your loved one.
A diabetes diet is not only good maintaining good blood sugar control, but it's a diet that is good for everyone. If you do not have diabetes, you may not specifically need to think about counting carbs or assess sugar content in food for yourself – though it helps to learn in order to help your loved one – but incorporating more healthy proteins, fruits, and vegetables, and drinking more water will help give you the energy you need to continue taking care of your loved one. It is also good for your health.
Exercise helps the person with diabetes to maintain a fit body and permits the body itself to work at its optimum. If working out is already a part of your routine, don't stop. Doing so may cause you to lose energy for other essential activities or even disrupt your sleep, which can cause sluggishness and so begins a vicious cycle.
If you don't work out already, don't just encourage your family member or friend to exercise, join them! You can also find creative ways to get your own exercise into the day even while taking care of someone else:
- While waiting for them during appointments, you can take a walk around the block or maybe even in the very building you are in.
- Do some weight lifting while you are carrying the groceries to your car or to your house.
- If your running to fill prescriptions, park as far as possible in the parking lot so you can get in some extra steps in the day.
Diabetes is a 24-hour-a-day disease. For your loved one, it helps to have you there to lean on when it becomes difficult to manage the intricacies of this sometime unpredictable condition. But who is there for you to lean on when it becomes difficult to manage the situation as a whole?
Maybe you have another friend or family member who has already joined you in the effort to take care of your loved one. If so, be sure to relieve each other from time to time and be your own support network by encouraging each other in healthy activities. If not, call on someone you can trust to listen and care about you. Make time to spend with friends and be sure to socialize from time to time. Stay connected.
You may consider joining a support group, online and/or in person where you can find all sorts of people who can relate to your circumstances. It may even be beneficial to talk to a professional counselor to help you and/or your loved to navigate the disease, so find a professional who specializes in diabetes-related issues.
Caring for someone can easily take a mental toll on you and cause emotional outbursts, even depression. If you are experiencing feelings such as isolation, stress, guilt, or anger, seek help. Your mental health is an integral part of staying fit.
Don't Skip Your Check-Ups
Between chauffeuring your loved one to their various medical appointments, be sure to make your own appointments as well and keep them. Call your doctor if you are experiencing any changes in your health such as your high blood pressure, extreme fatigue, or vision problems.
Managing your time well is as essential as managing your diet. The daily routine of your own life, mixed with the daily care of someone else can quickly become overwhelming. To keep things under control, get an overview of what you do. Make a list of not only your tasks and responsibilities, but your responsibilities in caring for your loved one as well. You may want to add to that list what you need to do in the future as well. From there, you can assess what is priority, what can be delegated, and what you need to get rid of. Be sure to schedule in time for yourself as well as your spouse and children, if you have them. You cannot do it all and once you see how much you must do, you can better judge when it is time to seek help.
Everyone needs a vacation, even caregivers. Take some time to rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul on a regular basis, whether it is a monthly getaway to the spa of your choice or a yearly retreat to your favorite vacation destination. When you can, bring your spouse or a friend.
If you just can't make the time for a long-distance getaway, consider spending some time at home just reading a good book, journaling, or pursuing your favorite hobby. Go to a movie or out to dinner. You can even practice relaxation techniques such as yoga or tai chi.
The role of the caregiver is a valuable one. Not only are you providing your loved one with personal attention that they may not be able to get from others, but you are helping them to maintain the quality of life they are accustomed to, which can go a long way in keeping their spirits high and their health stable, and you may even be helping to relieve some financial pressure. There can be personal rewards for taking on this role but the challenge is to not let helping someone else come at the expense of your own health and vitality. Remember to also take care of you.
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One of the online diabetes groups I belong to (but don't frequently post to) is geared towards "frum" (Orthodox or "observant") Jewish people with (mostly type 1) diabetes. Most of the chat on the mailing list centers around people needing last-minute supplies before Shabbat or a holiday, where to acquire supplies and get medical help when visiting Israel, and advice on which pump is best for one's type 1 child — in other words, the usual sort of diabetes chatter, but...