Monday Medical: Self-care for caregivers
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Whether you’re running after a 2-year-old, brainstorming college options with a teen or helping an aging parent navigate a doctor’s appointment, if you’re a caregiver, you probably spend a lot of time helping others. Sometimes, that leaves precious little time to take care of yourself.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, that challenge has been exacerbated.
“This year, I think self-care has fallen to the wayside a little bit more, and many people are experiencing caregiver stress or fatigue,” said Dr. Michelle Jimerson, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “But it’s like the airplane oxygen mask example: You have to put your oxygen mask on first before you help someone else. It can feel selfish to focus on yourself when all these other people need help, but if you don’t take care of yourself, that’s not going to be helpful for anyone.”
As a working mom with two children, Jimerson understands that taking time to take care of yourself can be a challenge. She outlines her tenets of self-care below.
Keep tabs on your mental health
“First and foremost to self-care, we talk about mental health,” Jimerson said. “This can look different for every person. Lack of sleep may be the first issue someone notices, or family members may be more irritable with kids or more short-tempered.”
While the pandemic has layered on the stress, Jimerson reminds patients to focus on what is in their control.
“We want to ask, ‘What can we control?’” Jimerson said. “There are a lot of things that are out of our control. We can’t control if our kids are at school or doing school at home; we can’t control that we have to work from home; we can’t control this illness. But we can be safe and follow the guidelines.”
Try to create a new routine that works for you and your loved ones and remember to build in time for yourself. Prioritize sleep and activities such as meditation to give your brain time to rest.
“For some people, it’s sitting quietly and doing an official meditation, but for some, it’s having quiet time or getting out on a walk by themselves,” Jimerson said.
Don’t hesitate to see your doctor if you’re struggling with anxiety, stress or depression. He or she can help guide you through options for addressing these issues.
Support good physical health
Small steps for health can make a difference, such as getting outside for quick walks, drinking lots of water and incorporating healthy foods — whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes — into your diet.
While people often ask whether supplements such as vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc are helpful, Jimerson prefers to focus on fostering a healthy lifestyle.
“Supplements probably don’t hurt, but focusing on sleep, good nutrition and decreasing stress are better for your immune system than just taking some extra vitamins,” Jimerson said.
And remember to keep your alcohol consumption in check.
“We have seen people turning to alcohol a little more, whether it’s because of boredom or to de-stress,” Jimerson said. “Be aware of how much you’re drinking and why.”
Foster a positive mental attitude
While there is no doubt the pandemic has had a host of negative impacts, Jimerson points out that you can still find ways to look for the silver linings. Maybe the pandemic has allowed you time to start a new hobby or connect with family members in a new way.
“We talk a lot about ‘P.M.A.,’ or positive mental attitude — how can we reframe what’s happening,” Jimerson said. “The world is what it is, but how you think about it and how you approach it can make a huge difference in how you experience life.”
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