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Caregiving Basics

Caregiver—Caring for Yourself

You may spend a large part of your days, and maybe even nights, helping care for a family member or friend. But there's one person you may not always take such good care of: yourself. Often, the responsibilities of caring for another come first. But making sure you are taken care of is important too. When you feel good, energized, and confident, the person you are caring for will benefit as well. Wondering where to begin? Here are 6 tips to help you get started.

1. Accept your feelings. Caregivers can experience many feelings, from guilt and sadness to anger and frustration. These feelings are very common—in fact, they're a way of letting you know how well you are coping. Take comfort in knowing that it's OK to feel this way sometimes. Instead of trying to hide or deny your feelings, try to accept them. Not only is it healthier—you may even feel better.

2. Listen to your body. It may sound simple, but listening to your body can be hard when you have other priorities to think about. Listening to your body includes:

Eating the right foods when you’re hungry

    Instead of skipping meals, keep a variety of healthy snacks such as fruit, crackers, and trail mix handy—at your desk, in your car, or in your pantry. Healthy snacking can help you avoid becoming extremely hungry and binge eating—consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time.

  • Getting enough sleep
    Exhaustion is one of the biggest problems caregivers can face. If caregiving keeps you up at night, try napping, if possible. Remember, every little bit helps.
  • Getting regular exercise
    Regular exercise can help boost your mood and fight depression. Try taking a brisk walk, riding a bicycle, or enjoying an aerobics class.
  • Having routine checkups
    Routine checkups can indicate how well you are taking care of yourself. They also can help you recognize any potential health risks. Plus, checkups are a great opportunity to talk to your health care professional about any health concerns you may have.

3. Stay informed. No one can possibly know all there is to know about caregiving. Simply understanding as much as you can about the health and treatment of the person in your care can help make things easier to manage. Consider attending workshops or joining support groups to find out how other caregivers are handling similar situations.

4. Seek emotional support. Caregivers can feel alone sometimes. But there are many other people who are going through the same thing you are and can offer understanding. It's important to surround yourself with people who can lend a helping hand, an ear to listen, or a shoulder to cry on. Whether it's a support group, friends, or family, having emotional support can help make each day a little easier.

5. Set limits. You have so much to take care of already. Sometimes it's OK to say no to requests or favors from others.

6. Ask for help. It may seem difficult or strange at first, but it's a good idea to learn to ask for help when you need it. You can start by:

Preparing a list of what needs to be done
Write down everything you may need help with, no matter how big or small—including cooking meals, running errands, or driving the person you are caring for to various appointments.
Considering a person's interests and abilities
Consider a person’s talents or interests when asking for help. For example, someone who enjoys cooking would be a good person to ask for help with preparing meals. A “morning person” would be an ideal choice for driving the person in your care to early appointments.
Picking the best time to ask
Timing is everything. If the person you are about to ask for help seems stressed or upset, you may want to ask someone else, or ask him or her at a later time.
Asking more than 1 person for help
Instead of asking for many things from 1 person, ask a few people each to do 1 thing. This way, more people can get involved and feel like they are making a difference.
Being prepared for "no"
Try not to take it personally if people are not able to help. Instead, ask again at a later time or consider finding someone else.
Making specific requests
Using phrases like "I was wondering if..." or "It's only a thought but..." make it sound as if the request is not that important to you. Instead, make specific requests, such as "I have to go food shopping on Sunday. Can you please keep Mom company from noon to 1:00?"

It's easy to say you will care for yourself. But that can be hard to do. These tips can help serve as your guide. It may take some time at first, but soon you can be on your way to a healthier you. And you can feel confident in caring for another, knowing that you have also taken care of yourself.

Further Resources

About.com

Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology

American Academy of Pediatrics

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

The Cleveland Clinic health information

eMedicineHealth.com

KidsHealth.org

Mayo Clinic

Pollen.com

WebMD


Further Resources

Allergy and Asthma Network - Mothers of Asthmatics, Inc.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology

American Lung Association

CDC: asthma's impact on children and adolescents

CDC: how to quit

EPA: asthma and indoor environments

NIH: asthma and physical activity in the school

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Further Resources

American Diabetes Association

Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation

Diabetic Exercise and Sports Association

International Diabetes Federation

NIH: NIDDK diabetes health information

NIH: NIDDK nutrition information

NIH: National Diabetes Education Program

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation


Further Resources

American Council for Headache Education

American Headache Society

National Headache Foundation

New England Center for Headache


Further Resources

American Dietetic Association

Dietary guidelines for americans

Food and nutrition information center

NIH: nutrition information

NIH: weight loss and control

NIH: weight control


Always check with the health care professional before beginning any activity plan or increasing activity. It's also important to ask him or her about target heart rate to help determine appropriate exercise intensity.

Always check with your health care professional before beginning any activity plan or increasing your activity. It's also important to ask him or her what your target heart rate is to help determine what exercise intensity is appropriate for you.

Always be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning any activity plan or increasing your activity.

It always helps to ask:

  • What activities are right for me?
  • How much should I do each day?
  • How many days a week?

It's also important to ask him or her what your target heart rate is to help determine what exercise intensity is appropriate for you.

This information is provided by an independent source. Merck is not responsible for this content. Please discuss any and all treatment options with your healthcare professional. The manufacturer of a product generally has the most complete information about that product.

This information is provided by an independent source. Merck is not responsible for this content. Please discuss any and all treatment options with your healthcare professional. The manufacturer of a product generally has the most complete information about that product.

This information is provided by an independent source. Merck is not responsible for this content. Please discuss any and all treatment options with your healthcare professional. The manufacturer of a product generally has the most complete information about that product.

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Health Coach Call

Listen to an example of what a call might sound like.

PlayNutrition call (7:16)
PlayActivity call (7:22)

Here are some important things to know about your Health Coach Call:

Our Coaches are employed by a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., a pharmaceutical company. The information provided is based on generally available nutrition and physical activity guidelines and information applicable to most people. Health Coaches are not licensed dietitians or health and fitness professionals, and they are not in a position to assess your individual nutrition or activity needs. This information is not appropriate if you are pregnant, and it may not be appropriate if you have specialized dietary needs or limitations on the level of activity or exercise you can safely undertake due to your medical conditions. Consult your health care professional regarding your specific needs, limitations, and health conditions. Health Coaches can educate and coach you on nutritional and physical activity recommendations for the typical person. Health Coaches are not health care professionals and cannot offer medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult your health care professional because he or she knows you best. If you have a chronic health condition, check with your health care professional to find out if physical activity is safe before you start. If during your call you have concerns about any condition, special dietary needs, limitations on the level of activity or exercise, any treatments, side effects, or adverse experiences, your Health Coach will refer you to your health care professional.

Activity Points Explained

This Planner uses Activity Points as a way to help you stay motivated and focused on your activity goals. Points are assigned to each activity in the Planner. You'll earn more points when you increase the duration of the activity.

For example, when you bicycle for 15 minutes at a moderate pace (12 to 14 mph), you earn 120 Activity Points. To earn the same number of Activity Points while cycling at a very easy pace (less than 10 mph), you would need to bike for 30 minutes.

If you are currently inactive or get very little activity during the week, a good goal to work toward is 500 Activity Points each week. This is equal to 30 minutes of moderate–intensity aerobic exercise on 5 days a week.

If you are moderately or highly active (more than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week), you may want to aim for up to 1,000 Activity Points each week. This is equivalent to 1 hour of activity on 5 days a week.

What you'll gain

At 500 Activity Points per week: Once you consistently reach this level (ie, 150 minutes of moderate–intensity aerobic activity per week), you may gain substantial health benefits. These benefits include lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression.

At 1,000 Activity Points per week: When you consistently reach this level (ie, 300 minutes of moderate–intensity aerobic activity per week), you may gain even more health benefits. These benefits include a decreased risk of colon and breast cancer and an even lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.