I recently presented this topic to a group of caregivers in Williamsburg, Virginia. Yes, caregiving - as in what some of you may be doing right now while balancing your busy careers with caring for a loved one like an older parent, sibling, spouse or someone disabled. As a caregiver you are responsible for their health, welfare and safety. You are not alone my friends! There are 65 million caregivers in the United States and it is okay for you to “come out” and be recognized as one. Unfortunately, many individuals do not even recognize they carry the title of “caregiver” (it’s not on my business card). I have been a long distance care provider for my aunt, mom and dad for over five years, traveling monthly for a week at a time. It took me a few years of doing it on my own before realizing the neglect of my own health and how that also had an effect on my family, my job and the ones I was caring for.
November is National Caregiver Month and to celebrate, I share a few suggestions to help improve the quality of your life at home and at work:
- Get the story straight – commit to yourself first, that “I am a caregiver”. Don’t worry - you’re not going to burst into flames! You’re just going to feel better that you are taking care of yourself first. It’s similar to the airlines – place the oxygen mask on you first before helping others.
- Recognize the importance of your health – 60% of caregivers report their health as fair to poor. Make time for yourself to exercise and eat healthy foods (stay out of that snack machine at work!)
- Share the burden with one other person. Call a friend, family member or paid caregiver to have a break at least one hour per day or several times each week. You need time to rest, replenish and restore.
- Join a Support Group - You’re not alone in this caregiver world. Learn the benefits of available resources in your area.
- Don’t take it personally - Learn to laugh and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Who knows stress better than an architect? (Okay, engineers, but that’s not my point) The point is, buildings handle stress by providing a design to withstand forces of nature (gravity, wind, seismic). Animals handle stress through fight or flight – they experience high stress by outrunning their predator and when successful, the stress is over and they just worry about going to find something to drink or eat. Humans, on the other hand, carry stress imposed by physical or psychological factors for extended periods of time. Now, in our profession we know that sustained stress on a beam or wall for an extended period of time is destined for failure. Our human bodies will fail in the same way from sustained high blood pressure, not eating properly, lack of exercise, depression and the like.
I have devoted my life to helping others for over twenty years through the volunteer fire/rescue squads in New York and Virginia, serving in the US Coast Guard Reserve and as a licensed architect in the 80’s and 90’s in healthcare. My career goal now focuses on completing my Masters in Gerontology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Spring 2013. By joining the DFA forum I look forward to reconnecting with my old friends while making new ones in the pursuit of continuing to help others within our aging society. I look forward to meeting you.