This is a guest post by Mango Health for Lantern.
In the past year, about 43.5 million adults in the United States provided unpaid care to an adult or a child according to an AARP research report, and roughly one in five of the people surveyed identified themselves as caregivers. While many of us spend much of our time and energy taking care of others, we often forget to take care of ourselves.
Taking care of another person, whether it's a toddler or an aging relative, is no small feat. At Mango Health, we know that keeping up with your own health on top of your caregiving responsibilities can seem quite daunting, so we've put together a list of four ways to help you take care of yourself.
Schedule your checkups
When you're running around all day refilling your father's prescriptions or scheduling your child's flu shots, it can be easy to push your own medical concerns aside. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, roughly three out of four caregivers reported that they do not go to the doctor as often as they should, and more than half had missed their own doctors' appointments.
The financial sacrifices required of unpaid caregivers can also have an impact on their personal health: A survey conducted by The Commonwealth Fund found that female caregivers, compared to non-caregivers, are twice as likely to skip filling a prescription because of the cost.
It can be easier said than done, but try to make your own health routine as much a priority as managing the health of a loved one. Have you been to the doctor recently? If not, get those appointments on the calendar now. And if you aren't sure what specialist appointments or screening tests you need, contact your general practitioner to find out.
Eat right and exercise
If you're a parent, you've probably spent a lot of time reminding your children to eat their veggies, but make sure that you remember to do the same! A national Evercare study on caregiver health revealed that roughly six out of 10 caregivers reported that their eating and exercising habits had declined since taking on the responsibility of caring for another person.
Whether it's your son or your mother, looking after someone else can make it difficult to find the time and energy to cook a healthy dinner or squeeze some exercise into your schedule. Try to incorporate exercise throughout your day by going for a walk at lunchtime or doing a 7-minute workout when you get home from work. Studies have shown that these small bursts of activity can be even more beneficial than one long workout.
Mind your mental health
Juggling the responsibilities of a loved one on top of your own can cause a lot of stress. Research on people providing assistance to the elderly or to adults with disabilities consistently shows that caregivers have higher levels of stress, depression, and mental health issues than non-caregivers. A Georgetown University study on family caregiver health found that many caregivers feel unable to handle all of their caregiving responsibilities, and many report feeling anxious, frustrated, and emotionally strained as well.
If you're feeling low or overwhelmed, take a moment to unwind and do something for yourself. Take a walk outdoors, go to a movie you've been wanting to see, or simply spend the afternoon chatting with a friend. It's important to take a step back make sure that you aren't forgetting about your own well-being.
Don't ignore physical or emotional signs of stress or anxiety, but instead learn what triggers your stress with Lantern, a stress and anxiety management app. Lantern teaches you long-term skills to reduce stress, which can ensure you build the emotional resilience you need to manage long-term caregiving.
Reach out for support
You don't have to face the challenges of looking after someone else's health alone. There are many resources available from organizations like the National Alliance for Caregiving and Emblem Health. According to an American Journal of Epidemiology study, caring for others can actually improve your health and help you live longer, provided you make sure to care for yourself as well as you care for others.
So don't be shy to speak up and ask for help, whether from friends, family, or health providers. If you need a hand managing either your health and medications, or those of a loved one, check out Mango Health, a free smartphone app that makes it fun and easy to develop healthy habits.
This article first appeared on Lantern's blog, which shares expert advice and research on strengthening emotional well-being.