When someone we love falls seriously ill, becoming a caretaker and offering all manner of help is a natural response and a wonderful blessing to the sick person. However, if the condition is chronic and prolonged—such as Alzheimers, cancer or heart disease—studies show that the pressure and strain can exert a serious toll on the caregivers themselves leading to depression, poor health, financial hardship, and even an early death.(1) In fact, more than a decade ago a Stanford University study sounded the alarm and reported that 40 percent of caregivers were dying before the people they were caring for due to the complex stressors that came with the job.(2)
Caregiving in the U.S.
According to a June 2015 Report on Caregiving in the U.S.,(3) more than 34 million Americans provide physical and emotional care to someone who is chronically ill, disabled or aged. Physical duties—demanding up to 30 hours a week or more—include meal preparation, providing transportation, assistance with getting in and out of beds or chairs, helping with personal hygeine, keeping track of medications, and even assuming the financial burdens of medical costs.
The emotional obligations of caregiving can be even more taxing when the patient or loved one is confused, distraught, angry, and/or makes irrational demands. These ongoing burdens are exhausting, aggravated even further by the stress of having to balance caregiving with holding down a job.
A National Institute of Health Caregivers study(4) reported that 69 percent of caregivers had experienced adverse impacts at their work. Six in 10 reported having had to cut back on hours or responsibilities, take a leave of absence, retire early, or even resign. Many had received warnings about job performance and were even fired.
Clearly caregivers need many more resources and support. They also must make the time for self care to ensure their own well being—and even survival.
My Journey as a Caregiver
In 2012, when my husband was diagnosed with deadly bladder cancer and caregiving was thrust upon me suddenly—as generally happens—I experienced a huge range of emotions: shock, fear, anger, depression, confusion, and even despair. Then, everything in me went into overdrive in pursuit of one single goal: to find healing for my husband.
Conventional medicine offered little hope, and I chose to shield my husband from the darkest, most negative predictions. I threw myself into researching alternative approaches which, after a fierce battle with many advances and setbacks, led to his complete healing. However, the emotional burden of this trial was so great, I could not carry it alone. Unashamedly, I reached out for support in spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational ways.
- Being a woman of faith, I galvanized a team of family and friends who committed to pray regularly for my husband’s healing. We also held prayer gatherings in our home. Whether near or far, I regularly updated everyone on our progress as we battled and persevered.
- My husband and I spent our mornings in the study of the Bible, memorizing many verses and promises. We prayed these together and individually for courage and strength. I also recorded these onto a CD called Healing Scriptures and would listen to them in my car or when I sat down to meditate.
- Any serious disease requires a radical change in diet to cleanse the body of toxins and boost the immune system. We committed to a specific nutrition plan (explained in my book) and, in solidarity, I chose to follow it with him. The approach strengthened me, as well, at a time when I desperately needed it.
- The fear of losing the person I love the most was devastating. It also triggered the pain of having lost several others I dearly loved. The emotional burden was too much for me and I sought help from a gifted counselor who helped me heal these deep emotional wounds. The strength and stamina I received was liberating.
- We also shared our struggle with several pastors from our church and other ministries. Their prayers for my husband and I were powerful and encouraging.
We could not have persevered in this journey alone. The pressures and strains were very intense. We’re forever grateful for the way our family and friends stood by us in our darkest hour and hung in there with us month after month, even when progress eluded us so many times along the way. When my husband was finally declared cancer free, our whole community of supporters shared in the sweet joy of victory, for it was theirs, too.
What You Can Do:
If today you are in a caregiving position and the burden is heavy, please consider these steps:
- Take Care of Yourself– You are no good to anyone if you yourself are sick and debilitated. Stress alone will wear you down, never mind a heavy caregiving schedule. You must take steps to eat well and care for your health to maintain your strength.
- Consider switching to organic foods- Though they cost a little more, their higher nutritional value will satisfy you sooner and you will find yourself eating smaller portions.
- Balanced Nutrition- Adopt a 70/30 diet plan: 70 percent organic veggies, fruits and nuts, and 30 percent pasture raised animal protein. Cut way down on any form of sugar, breads, pastas, and alcohol. Avoid dairy that is not from pasture raised cows. These healthier choices will help remove the toxic burden from the body and allow the good foods to nourish you and provide more energy.
- Hydrate. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Add a splash of lemon or some mint and berries to make it extra delicious. Every cell in our body needs fresh water to do what it’s designed to do. Give your patient plenty of fresh water, too!
- Exercise. Movement is essential to life. Any kind of exercise- gentle, moderate or strenuous will help oxygenate the body and build vitality. If going to a gym or exercise class is not for you, consider this small trampolin that fits anywhere in a room (http://amzn.to/1WdrZew).
The gentle bouncing is easy on your back and joints, gets the blood flowing, and offers superb support to the lymph system (our body’s waste mechanism). It also builds fitness.
- Restful Sleep- Sleep allows our body to heal and renew itself. Try and get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Drink a glass of warm almond mild with a touch of raw organic honey before bedtime to help you relax. Take a 20-minute nap during the day if you can.
- Pray or Meditate– Taking an hour a day, preferably in the morning, to quiet your mind and spirit will bring refreshing and renewal. Listen to soft music, drench your mind with positive affirming thoughts of health, healing and peace. Consider listening to our CD of Healing Scriptures; the soft music will help you relax and its powerful verses will give you hope and strength.
- Build Community- Surround yourself with kind, compassionate people who you can talk to and trust. Work with a counselor, if you need one. Start or join a support group. Do not carry this burden alone. There are many people who are in a caregiving position, like you, and understand the demands of such a call. Contact your local church or research online to find these groups and begin to build these crucial relationships.
- Journal- Writing down our deepest thoughts and feelings is a great way of unburdening ourselves and keeping track of the journey we are on. A journal can become like a private friend and a healthy way to express our cares and emotions. (There is a beautiful Healed, Healthy and Whole Prayer Journal that contains daily verses for meditation and encouragement.)
- Fresh Perspective- Sometimes a simple change in perspective can make all the difference. Many of these steps can help you feel stronger so you can go the distance. In the end, being a caregiver is a supreme act of selfless service. You are being used as a vessel of blessing to another human being. I salute you, acknowledge your noble work, and pray you these resources here may help you find strength and encouragement in this unique and important season of your life.
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(1) (2) https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2002/05/stanford-study-focuses-on-effects-of-family-caregiving-for-patients-with-alzheimers-disease-dementia.html