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If you help a loved one who is elderly, ill or disabled, you are a caregiver. Even though the bathing, feeding and other assistance you provide is a labor of love, this “job” can take its toll on you.

When caring for loved ones, it’s common for caregivers to put their own health and wellness aside, putting them at risk for many other health problems. Michelle Hoy, oncology social worker at IU Health West Hospital, offers the following advice to help caregivers cope with stress.

Take Care of Yourself

It’s important that you manage your stress and protect your health. Don’t forget the following:

  • Get enough sleep, eat well and schedule regular health appointments.
  • If you work, talk with your boss about designing a work schedule that allows flexibility for your caregiver tasks. Research FMLA benefits that might help protect your job and offer the freedom you need to care for your loved one.
  • Set aside time for regular exercise.
  • Keep up your hobbies, interests and friendships. If it’s difficult to leave your family member, ask friends to come over for dinner or a movie.
  • Join an in-person or online support group.
  • Realize that it’s okay to lose your patience sometimes. Vent your feelings to a trusted friend or keep a journal.
  • Be aware of the signs of depression, such as crying, loneliness and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Talk to your doctor if you notice signs.

Spread the Responsibility

You can quickly burn out if you try to do everything yourself. Reach out for help when you can, and consider the following tips:

  • Develop a schedule that spreads the caregiving or household chores among other family members and friends. For example, ask older children to help feed a disabled or ill relative. This helps you, and it helps children build empathy and a sense of responsibility.
  • Take the time to pinpoint those aspects of caregiving that seem the most difficult and demanding. You may find that you could use extra help with shopping, meal preparation, cleaning or driving, for example. Then, look into local programs, such as online grocery shopping or delivery, and other services that can help with any or all of these tasks.

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