That’s why the theme of this year’s National Family Caregivers Month — Take Care to Give Care — is so appropriate. You need to take care of yourself to be strong enough to take care of your loved one.

Responsibility and stress

Family caregivers are the ones holding everything together. So what happens if the caregiver gets too run-down? Will they be able to provide their best level of care? If the caregiver gets the flu, will their loved one catch it from them? If the caregiver becomes depressed, will they be able to make their best decisions? If the caregiver gets sick, who will take over their caregiving role, whether temporarily or permanently?

Caregiving can be physically and emotionally demanding. But caregivers too often disregard their own health needs. Caregivers are at greater risk of major health conditions like depression, diabetes and hypertension than non-caregivers — a direct result of the stress from their caregiving challenges. And ignoring their own health (not properly eating, sleeping, exercising, visiting a doctor) further endangers caregivers’ health.

How to stay balanced

Caregivers have a unique set of needs in order to stay healthy. Trying to stay healthy yourself isn’t easy when you are focusing all your attention on the person you are caring for. It’s essential, however, that caregivers create a balance between caring for others and caring for themselves.

Caregivers need to pay attention to physical and emotional symptoms that can affect their own health and well-being. They need to guard against caregiver burnout and avoid becoming overly tired and exhausted, which can reduce the body’s ability to ward off illness. There are many ways to stay vigilant regarding your own health.

Family caregivers, out of loyalty and love, give so much. They often put their own lives on hold, put their own needs second, and put their own health in jeopardy to care for someone else. But ignoring your own health is not healthy for anyone, least of all a loved one who needs you to be healthy enough to care for them.

Here are some helpful strategies to keep in mind if you're a caregiver. Practice these tips for healthier mental and physical well-being:

  • Make regular doctor visits and do not ignore possible symptoms of ill health

  • Take a break from caregiving — respite time is crucial

  • Get a flu shot

  • Watch for signs of depression

  • Have regular check-ups with your medical doctor, eye doctor and dentist

  • Take a daily vitamin supplement                 

  • Get exercise