Self-Care For The Teen Caregiver

Caregiving takes a toll – both emotionally and physically.  Compared to non-caregivers, those with family caregiving responsibilities are more likely to:

  • Have an increased risk for depression
  • Experience sleep deprivation
  • Exhibit poor eating and exercise habits
  • Postpone or miss medical and preventive care for themselves
  • Experience chronic illness (including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity)
  • Have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs use

Neither teen parents – nor their own parents – are immune from the tolls of caregiving. In addition to continually assessing your teen parents for these risk factors, and referring them to additional mental health care as appropriate, as a clinician you can play a critical role in helping teens and their families use effective coping strategies when they are feeling the stress of caregiving.

It can be challenging for parents to put their needs first. Helping adolescent parents – and their families – acknowledge this challenge is critical.  You might start the conversation with questions like:

  • How does it feel when you have to take care of your needs before you do anything else?
  • Who do you go to for help? 

Negative “self-talk” is also a barrier to self-care, examples might include:

  • I can never do anything right.
  • I just don’t have time for myself anymore.

Helping caregivers challenge these statements, might include providing them with a reflection of their statement, or the feeling behind it, followed by a question to help reframe their statement in a more positive light: “You are trying really hard and are committed to being a good mom. What is one thing you could do for yourself every day.” Which may be as simple as taking a short nap when the baby is napping. Simple re-framing exercises like these can help to move from the negative and spiral to a more positive state of mind.  It is important to help young parents understand that taking care of themselves does not mean they are neglecting their child.  It really means they are trying to give their child the best care by being at their best.

There are numerous resources for helping caregivers identify and manage the stress associated with their role.  Caregiver.org provides a number of short, simple strategies to help caregivers achieve the ultimate goals of self-care, including:

  • Attending to your own healthcare needs
  • Taking time off without feeling guilty
  • Participating in pleasant, nurturing activities, such as reading a good book, or taking a warm bath
  • Seeking and accepting the support of others
  • Identifying and acknowledging your feelings, you have a right to ALL of them
  • Changing the negative ways you view situations
  • Setting goals

Reference:

Family Caregiver Alliance: https://www.caregiver.org/taking-care-you-self-care-family-caregivers