The Caregiver: International Bipolar Foundation Column

Aug 16, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Mental Health, Muffy Walker

by Muffy Walker, MSN, MBA

Muffy Walker, of the International Bipolar Foundation, writes a mental health column for KRL every other month.

Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million American adults. For each person with this disorder, or any other malady for that matter, there are millions more who are their caregivers.

The role of the caregiver can be both rewarding and stressful. In fact, caregivers’ stress hormone levels can be up to 23 percent higher than those of their non-care giving counterparts. If we do not take care of ourselves while carrying out this role, we won’t be any good to ourselves or the person we’re carrying for. Remember what the flight attendants tell us before takeoff; “Put your own oxygen mask on first, then help your child.”

So, what can we do to help ourselves in our role as care-givers?

1. Exercise daily, even if for only 20-30 minutes a day.
2. Get adequate rest and sleep. Adhering to a healthy sleep schedule may be difficult with all you are now dealing with. Here are some helpful hints to get those much needed Z’s: Avoid paying bills, having difficult discussions, or other stressful events in the evening. Try scheduling them early in the day.
Clear your mind. Try imagining a calming scene bringing into play the five senses. Walk on the beach, listen to the waves, smell the salt air, feel the warm sun…
Take a warm bath an hour or so before going to bed.
Smooth on some lavender cream or put essential oil on a cotton ball near your pillow. Research shows that the scent of lavender eases anxiety and insomnia. Listen to soothing music and turn off the TV and video games an hour before going to bed.
Make love, not war. Research shows that sex actually helps induce a sleepy state by releasing endorphins. Try some slow, deep breathing. This type of breathing relaxes your body, oxygenates your blood and reduces the stress you feel.
3. Eat nourishing foods. Try to avoid caffeine, sugar, and processed foods. Avoid alcohol. Many believe alcohol helps them relax and sleep, however, alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle causing a non-restful sleep. Enjoy some “me” time. Plan ahead for some “me” time, whether it’s a walk with your dog, lunch with a good friend, or curling up with a good book. “Me” time can be very restorative.
4. Acknowledge and understand your negative emotions. Guilt, anger, isolation and resentment are normal feelings often associated with the care-giving process. If you notice yourself feeling this way, take a step back and remind yourself that these are part of the normal process.
5 Laugh. Enjoying a good belly laugh helps the body relax, raises your blood oxygen levels, produces endorphins, stimulates your internal organs, and boosts your immune system. Know a good joke?
6. Give yourself a pat on the back. You aren’t doing this to win a caregiver award but at the same time, you may not have realized how taxing it would be. If your loved one with bipolar disorder does not show his or her appreciation, don’t take it personally. Appreciate your own efforts and how they’re helping.
7. Find support. Whether you seek support from your church, a professional therapist, or simply check in with a cheery friend, support is essential. Caring for your loved one is not a one-person job, although we tend to think it is. Connect with others who are in the similar situation. Support groups can work wonders for your morale. Your situations always seem so much worse until you are in the company of those going through the same thing.
8. Redefine your priorities. Taking care of someone with bipolar disorder may leave you with little time and energy for yourself. Adjust your expectations of yourself and explain to others why your time and focus on them may need to change.
9. Arrange respite care: care/respite-resources.
10. Consider Supplements. Low serotonin levels have been linked to low spirits, says Marie-Annette Brown, PhD, RN, of the University of Washington. Getting 400 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid; 50 milligrams each of B1, B2 and B6; and 400 international units of vitamin D every morning has been shown to boost serotonin and, as a result, people’s mood and energy. In Dr. Brown’s research, combining these supplements with daily exercise and exposure to natural light helped women overcome depression.
11. Have hope. Remember, bipolar disorder is treatable and in most cases can be stabilized. Be prepared for the condition to worsen and/or improve at times. We won’t give up hope.

Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.

Muffy Walker was born and raised outside of Philadelphia, PA. She currently resides in Switzerland with her husband John C. Reed and their three sons. In 1983, Walker graduated with a Master’s of Science in Psychiatric Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked in the mental health field for over 18 years until she moved to California when she obtained her MBA with a focus in marketing from the University of California-Irvine. Walker is the founder and President of International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF). After learning that her youngest son had Bipolar Disorder, Walker joined other mental health boards and ultimately started IBPF. She has served on a plethora of boards including Children’s Hospital, Kids Korps USA, NeighborHelp, ChildHelp USA, and has dedicated the past 10 years of her life championing the education of the public about mental illness.


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