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Honoring those who care for our Veterans

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Holistic approach to promote stress reduction includes spending time in nature

By Sharon Johnson MS OTR/L, Occupational Therapist, Minneapolis VA Medical Center
Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Take Care to Give Care

In November, VA, along with the entire country, celebrates National Family Caregivers Month. This is a time to honor and celebrate caregivers who selflessly provide care to ill, injured, or disabled Veterans. The theme of this year’s National Family Caregivers Month is “Take Care to Give Care.”

According to multiple reports released by AARP in June 2015, an estimated 40 million family caregivers in the U.S. provide an estimated 37 billion hours of care valued at approximately $470 billion. This report also noted that caregivers spend an average of about 18 hours a week providing care. Four in ten caregivers who provide care to someone 50 or older say their caregiving situation is highly stressful. An additional 26 percent report moderate stress.

When asked about the impact that caregiving has had on their health, 22 percent feel their health has gotten worse as a result of caregiving. According to a 2014 RAND study, family caregivers of post 9/11 Veterans report poorer levels of physical health than non-caregivers, an elevated risk for depression and low-quality relationships with care recipients.

The Importance of a Holistic Approach:

A holistic approach to personal well-being involves taking care of one’s mind-body-spirit and the social, cultural and environmental connection one has to their community. Integrative therapies are healing practices that facilitate and support the body’s natural ability to heal. For example, a moving meditation such as yoga, t’ai chi chih or qigong focuses on moving energy within the body to promote self-healing and balancing of mind-body-spirit. By combining physical movements with a connection to the breath, one can experience improved immune function, sleep quality, physical balance, strength and flexibility.

Moving meditations will also promote stress reduction and facilitate feelings of peace and compassion. Additional integrative healing therapies that have similar benefits include: Mindfulness meditation (which can be anything from working in the garden to a more formal practice), spending time in nature, and creative expression such as journaling, art or dance.

Take Care to Give Care – Practical Applications:

What are some practical ways for caregivers to implement daily self-care strategies? Available time, feelings of guilt and limited social support are only a few of the factors to consider. A few basic self-care strategies include: Keeping a water bottle within reach to support hydration, eating nutritious meals (i.e. obtaining food from the farmer’s market, ordering through an on-line grocery store if getting to the store is a challenge), attempting to sleep/wake at the same time each day and taking time for personal doctor and dental visits.

Finding time to successfully integrate strategies throughout the day can be challenging. Start by spending five minutes at the beginning of the day listening to a guided meditation, journaling and/or sipping coffee while sitting outdoors. Developing a daily routine that includes short increments of relaxation or meaningful self-care experiences can make such a difference. Whether it’s spending time with a friend, listening to music, taking a walk outdoors or reading something that makes you laugh, self-care looks different for everyone, but is essential to recharging and improving one’s well-being.

VA Opportunities for Caregiver Self-Care and Personal Well-Being:

VA has a variety of supportive opportunities available to caregivers to support personal self-care. Building Better Caregivers™ is a six-week online interactive workshop for caregivers who are caring for someone with dementia, memory problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, a serious brain injury, or any other serious injury or illness. It helps caregivers in two key ways: it offers training in how to provide better care, and it also helps caregivers learn how to manage their own emotions, stress and physical health. 

Peer Support Mentoring Program matches caregivers with mentors who provide experience about thriving as a caregiver.

The VA Monthly Caregiver Support Line Education Calls focus on strategies to enhance resilience and restore balance. The calls are facilitated by the VA Caregiver Support Line. Typically one topic is offered each month at different times. The VA Peer Support Mentoring Program is a program that matches caregivers with peer mentors, who can provide personalized support, guidance and friendship, experience and knowledge, and wisdom and skills about thriving as a caregiver. In addition, local VA support groups focused on caregiver self-care and written resources are also available. Please utilize respite services and reach-out for help. Go to www.caregiver.va.gov  to learn about supports available to you.

How Can Caregivers Get Help?

Caregiver support services can be accessed in a number of ways at each VA Medical Center. Caregivers can contact their local Caregiver Support Coordinator for assistance with connecting to these services. For more information on the Caregiver Support Program and to locate your Caregiver Support Coordinator call the VA Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274 or visit the VA Caregiver Support website.