"Women who have multiple roles -- as parents, spouses, employees, and caregivers -- often have little time to care for themselves or take a break," says Richard Schulz, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh who has done numerous studies on caregiver stress. Research shows that caregivers are at greater risk for depression, stress, and poor health than adults who don't provide care.
"Giving and giving and giving, and not taking care of yourself won't benefit anyone," cautions Suzanne Mintz, cofounder and president of the National Caregivers Association in Kensington, Maryland. To ensure you stay well:Carve Out Regular "Me" Time
Mintz, who cares for her husband with multiple sclerosis, is adamant about getting manicures. Joanne Cunningham escapes to the gym every day at lunch. Laura Broadwell, 49, a single mom and editor in Brooklyn who helps care for her mother with dementia, says, "It took me more than a year to give myself permission to sit on the couch and read a book. I had a hard time allowing myself any pleasure. But not losing myself in the caregiving role is crucial to my survival."
Enlist your friends to routinely invite you out for pizza, go for an evening walk or to a book group, so you can destress. Also, don't let caregiving usurp all your time with your kids. Do your best to maintain important -- and comforting -- family rituals, like heading to the park on Saturday mornings.Adjust Your Work Hours
Studies show that having a job can buffer you from the stress of caregiving. But sometimes you may need to cut back your hours or change your schedule to accommodate family demands. If you need time off, consider taking advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave while retaining their health benefits and job.