Self-Care for Caregivers
Taking on a role as a caregiver for another person - young or old - can be an extensive responsibility. It’s important to remember to also take time to take care of yourself as the caregiver. If you don’t take care of yourself, how well can you take care of someone else? When you make sure your own needs are well met, the person you care for will benefit as well.
Caregiving for loved ones often encompasses conflicting emotions, with a rewarding commitment of love on one hand, and exhaustion, worry, and stress on the other. Caregiver stress, stemming from the emotional and physical stress of caregiving, is a common issue for caregivers of all ages. It’s easy to put your own health aside when you’re focused on others’ needs, but prolonged stress can cause other health problems and lead to chronic illness for yourself. Family caregivers are overall less likely to follow preventative healthcare, so it’s important to keep in mind that you can’t care well for others when your own health is poorly managed.
Make Your Self-Care a Priority
The physical and emotional demands of caregiving will eventually put pressure on even the most resilient people. If you have personal barriers that are getting in the way of focusing on yourself, take some time to examine your thoughts and ask yourself what thought patterns may be getting in your way. Having the ability to take a break is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Respite care can come in several forms and can be a nice change of pace for the loved one you’re caring for as well. Even something as simple as having another family member give you a break occasionally can give you the chance to decompress and attend to your own needs. Allow yourself to prioritize your own needs and fill up your self-care cup so that you can continue to care for your loved one with your best self.
Even with the best self-care intentions, there will still be times when you feel overextended. Try to utilize some of these ideas to manage caregiver stress:
Accept or ask for help. First, make up a list of simple things others can do to help you. If someone offers to help out, let them choose something from your list that they would like to do. For instance, a family member could take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Or a friend may be able to run an errand, pick up your groceries or cook for you. Often times people will offer support without knowing how they can really be helpful. Having a list ready can give others the chance to support you in a tangible way instead of brushing off the offer because nothing comes to the top of your mind.
Focus on what you are able to provide. You know you are doing the best you can, but sometimes it’s easy to feel guilty about what you can’t do. Every person has limits, and no one is a perfect caregiver. Believe that you are doing your best and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
Get connected to resources. Ask your loved one’s doctor, your insurance company, or a local church about caregiving resources in your community. Caregiving services such as transportation, meal delivery or housekeeping may be available. People in these services want to help, so reach out and let them!
Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships. There are thousands of Facebook groups for caregivers to provide support and understanding to each other. You can find ones that focus on your loved-one’s condition, or for caregivers who live in your region. For caregivers of children with disabilities, the Navigate Life Texas website has a great list of organizations to start with.
Set personal health goals and don’t skip your own doctor’s visits. You can set goals like getting small amounts of physical activity most days, drinking plenty of water, and eating healthy meals. Many caregivers have issues with sleeping, so you could set a goal to find ways to get more sleep. Skimping on sleep over a long period of time can cause health issues, so talk with your doctor about strategies if you’re having trouble. Speaking of your doctor, make sure you are keeping up with your own recommended vaccinations and health screenings.
As a caregiver, it’s up to you to keep your health (mental and physical) in good order so that you can be at your best when caring for another person. It may be hard to start, but it is worth it to make time for your own self-care for the benefits to yourself and your loved one. For a more in-depth look at self-care for family caregivers and how to get started, visit this Family Caregiver Alliance article.