As a caregiver, caring for yourself is one of the most important and at the same time, one of the most often ignored things. Only when you are physically fit and healthy, then you can take care of someone else.
Caregiving is not easy; it can be an emotional roller coaster. Caregivers are often at increased risk of depression and excessive use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Caring for someone or a family member demonstrates pure love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience, but at the same time, factors like exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources and continuous care demands can be enormously stressful.
As many as 44 million people in America provide unpaid care and support to older adults who are terminally ill or disabled. Regardless of age, gender, race and ethnicity, caregivers report problems attending to their own health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities. They often report:
- lack of sleep
- poor diet
- failure to exercise
- failure to stay in bed when ill
- postponement of or failure to make medical appointments for themselves
Remember, when your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit, too. It is crucial that caregivers take steps to take care of themselves. Here are some tips for caregivers to care for themselves while taking care of others.
Move daily and exercise for at least 10 minutes
This may annoy you because you don’t have the time or the energy to exercise every day or it may be next to impossible with all the work, but the truth is that your body needs to move for at least ten minutes every day. Exercising for just 10 minutes a day will improve your physical health, energy levels, and mental health as well. Take a walk, do a bit of yoga, or simply take the stairs instead of the elevator. The more movement you can include into your daily doings, the better the results are for your health and overall well-being.
Some concerned friends, family, and neighbors may think they are helping you by loading your refrigerator with all sorts of high-calorie goodies like cakes and cookies. But stocking up on unhealthy food is anything but helpful for you—or your patient’s—health. Instead, ask friends and well-wishers to bring healthy and nutritious meals that you can freeze and heat up in the future. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, add good fats into your diet, and stick with lean proteins. Increase your water intake, too. You can also look for other healthy options like fresh food-delivery services or cooked foods from local supermarkets if you don’t have time to cook.
Get sufficient sleep
Sleep is extremely important for the brain and body. While it’s important to get as much sleep as you can overnight, don’t miss out the opportunity of naps during day time. There is no denying the fact that caregiving can be very exhausting and in order to give good care you need to take naps when you can. The daily chores can wait, but if it’s urgent, take a 15 minute power nap, while you are waiting for the dryer to stop. It’s important to take advantage of little recharging moments each day. Remember to keep your bedroom cool, dark and comfortable so that you can get as much sleep as possible. If you have trouble falling asleep, take some chamomile tea at night to help.
Simply going outside and enjoying natural beauty, whether it’s a park or the mountains or a beach, can refresh you enough so that you can stay focused, calm and more centered. And if you are one of those caregivers who have pets around, try spending time with them regularly. Spending time with pets can do wonders for stress management and mental health.
Taking time for themselves is something that caregivers often neglect. Consider taking a break and have another caregiver spend some time with your loved one. Everyone needs to recharge and take time out for themselves. This practice can help you get refreshed and rejuvenated, when you come back as a caregiver again. It’s important to take some time out for small luxuries. It doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t have to take more than an hour, but you do need to find ways to enjoy a tiny bit of me time. So go out for a drink or coffee, get a pedicure or haircut and read a book that you left in between, see a romantic-comedy movie or have dinner out with a friend. Find exciting ways for activities that can lift your spirits and take you away from your tight routine.
Remember your aim
Spare a moment to think about your values and why you have chosen to be a caregiver. This will help you stay on track and won’t let you deviate from your aim when the daily routine seems like it’s too much to handle. According to a book by Dr. Julia Mayer, a renowned clinical psychologist, she highlights that ‘often it allows you to think, how you will feel exactly five years from now?’ Down the memory lane, you will probably think that even though caregiving was tough, exhausting and challenging you were glad that you did it. It’s good for caregivers to practice mindfulness exercises at least once a day to try combat stressful feelings.
You are not being self-centered, if you are focusing on your own needs and desires when you are a caregiver. In fact, it’s an important part of the job. You are responsible for your self-care as well as the person you care for. Focus on some of the self-care practices like stress reduction techniques, e.g. meditation, yoga, and prayers, pleasant activities such as swimming, reading a book or taking a warm bath, to perform the job with mental and physical ease.
Alma Causey is a blogger by choice. She loves to discover the world around her. She likes to share her discoveries, experiences and express herself through her blogs.
Find her on Twitter: @Almacausey