(Good Things Utah) – Caregivers in America are often unsung heroes, taking on the responsibility of caring for another person while maintaining their own individual lives.

Dr. Valentine is here to share facts about caregivers, discuss their importance and share some tips on how caregivers can prioritize their own health, in addition to those for whom they provide care, especially during this holiday season.

Family caregivers are extremely important, not only because of the care they provide but also due to the rising number of older Americans in the country. Family caregivers are the backbone of long-term care provided in people’s homes. They are also the people who provide care to people who need ongoing assistance with everyday tasks on a regular or daily basis.

According to a 2020 AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving report, an estimated 53 million adults in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or child at some time in the last 12 months.

Most caregivers care for a relative (89 percent), typically a parent or parent-in-law, spouse or partner, grandparent or grandparent-in-law, or adult child and 10 percent provide care to a friend or neighbor. The data also suggests that many caregivers may be taking on the role without adequate and affordable services and supports in place.

Today’s caregivers provide about 24 hours of care a week on average. While many caregivers feel their role has given them a sense of purpose or meaning (51 percent), these positive emotions often coexist with feelings of stress or strain.

Caregivers report physical, emotional, and financial strain with 2 in 10 reporting they feel alone. One in four find it difficult to take care of their own health and a similar proportion report caregiving made their own health worse.

Support for caregivers and their recipients will be even more critical if the trend in declining caregiver’s health continues to hold. Caregivers who cannot care for themselves may become unavailable to care for others which begs the question – “who will care for the caregivers?”

In addition, the economic effects of family caregiving can result in financial strain and substantial financial consequences. Ultimately caregivers are us – with one out of every five American adults providing care each year – from all different walks of life and backgrounds. This research points to the impacts many caregivers face because of stepping up to help their friends and family.

It’s important that caregivers care for themselves in small ways, every day. By taking care of yourself, you are better able to take care of the people you love. Some suggestions on ways to do this include:

1. Recognizing how stress affects you and your body.

  • Understanding what types of stressful situations affect you and how your body responds is a key step to taking care of yourself. For example, you may struggle with headaches, insomnia or stomach issues when you are dealing with stress. Knowing how stress affects you allows you to better deal with it when it occurs.

2. Take care of your body and take steps to improve your physical health.

  • Get the right amount of sleep –most healthy adults should aim for seven to nine hours a night. You can also consider incorporating 15–30-minute naps into your day, if needed. Good quality sleep is also important…try limiting the amount of screen time (i.e. TV and computers) before you go to sleep, keep your room cool and dark and try to practice a regular sleep routine.
  • Find ways to relax your body – Tools such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation practices are helpful practices that can help you learn to deal with difficult feelings or stress in the long-term.
  • If you choose to drink, limit alcohol intake to no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  • Avoid illicit drug use
  • Eat healthy foods – typically unprocessed and whole foods, specifically fruits and vegetables.
  • Move your body daily – exercise may help to reduce stress and anxiety as well as improving overall health.

3. Get support from people who are in similar situations.

  • Do research to find support groups in your community or make time to meet up with friends who help you recharge and stay connected.

4. Maintain a positive mental outlook

  • Recognize positive moments throughout your day/week/month/year and note it. It’s also helpful to “feel your feelings,” whether they are negative or positive without attaching meaning to them.

5. Take time for yourself

  • When you are a caregiver, the responsibility of taking care of someone else can become consuming and it can be difficult to dedicate time for yourself without feeling guilty. However, as mentioned before it is not possible to take care of someone else if you have not taken the time to recharge your own batteries.

Look at your local county Aging and Adult Services for Caregiver Support. For example, Salt Lake County Services offer respite services, support groups, supplemental services, and consultations

Optum also encourages you to look at support at the Optum Community Centers. Optum offers a wide range of free classes for adults 55 and older at three locations including meditation classes, support groups, and age-appropriate exercise classes.

Visit www.optumcare.com/utcenters or call 1-866-637-5268 now.

This story contains sponsored content.