Fact: being a caregiver of a loved one takes a toll. This toll is evidenced both emotionally and physically. Unfortunately, our own bodies do not stop needing care while we are caring for others. Many of us are struggling to not only provide care to our loved one, but also provide for our own families, work outside of the home and try to care for ourselves. Coping as a caregiver means being able to discern not only your loved ones needs but knowing the importance of caring for yourself and even more important, taking an active role in providing that care.
There are some basic caring support measures that we must offer ourselves if we want to be caring caregivers to others, as well as ourselves. Remember, you are a very important person, and you need and deserve proper care of yourself, especially if you are also caring and helping someone else!
Exercise Daily: Whatever your caregiving schedule, you can only take care of others if you take care of yourselves. Walk, run, stretch, lift weights, dance, and do whatever you do, but do some physical exercise 30-60 minutes four to six times a week. If you only have ten minutes a day to exercise, that is better than no time at all. Even a walk around the corner is a great way to clear your mind. Exercise truly does relieve stress, increases your energy level and protects your health. Strength training two times a week will help keep your bones strong and your muscles firm. This is really important if you are caring for someone else. Every morning, think through your day and try to anticipate little pocket of time your can devote to exercise. Take whatever measures you must to make it happen…do as if your life depends on it!
Accept your own limits: As a loving caregiver, we want to be able to say; “I can do it all”. But the truth is, as much as we need to care for our loved one, we also must care for ourselves. We must proactively ask for help and support from outside. Just remember, taking good care of yourself and your loved one, involves recruiting additional help. Don’t wait, even if you may feel you do not need extra help now, chances are, you will need some assistance in the future. It is so much better and a great peace of mind, to have help available and “ready to go”, in advance of needing the help. Talk to your doctor, senior care professionals, your pastor and others that you trust, about your needs. Respite care, assistance that allows someone else to come in and assist your loved one, is an excellent resource for giving you “time off” from care giving to take care of yourself. Plan ahead by making a list of people you can recruit to help you. Having help will help you manage the extra demands of your time and give you a sense of control.
Relax: Daily relaxation is vital to our own health. Deep breathing, meditation, praying reduce caring stress. If possible, take time at the beginning and the end of the day to practice these techniques and any other available moments.
Talk: Everyone needs to share their own care giving challenges and successes. It is always reassuring to know that you are not the only one having certain struggles. Find people you can trust and share your heart with them. Join a support group for caregivers. Just know you are not alone and hearing another person’s story can be a great comfort. You may help someone else as you share your thoughts and feelings.
Schedule time for yourself: You may not remember the last time you left your responsibilities and just took time for yourself. Caregivers typically feel very guilty taking time away from their loved one; especially if it is not for other responsibilities. Taking time to just do something that is not work related in any way, will actually make you a better caregiver. Read a few pages from that book, window shop, take that nap or maybe just going to the beach. It is not just “O.K.”, it is vital to your well being.
Get Enough Rest: If you are lacking on your sleep, your body will soon let you know. Without proper sleep you are putting your own health at risk. Try to get at least eight hours of rest at night. If you are required to be up at night with your loved one, take naps the following day when you loved one is sleeping.
Eat a Balanced Diet: If you are preparing meals for your loved one, this should be a good way to manage eating healthy for yourself. Just as you want your loved one to eat well, your nutrition is vital to your health. Keep veggies and fruit available for snacks, eat whole grains, avoid high fat and carbohydrates, increase your water intake to six to eight glasses a day and avoid concentrated sweets and too much caffeine.
Get Organized and Simplify: Being a caregiver, a parent, a grandparent, a worker outside the home brings many demands of your time. Control those demands by recruiting your own family to help with chores at home. Stay organized daily with whatever method works for you. Simplify by saying no to activities that, even though they are worthwhile, may not fit the current demands of your time.
Remember, caring for a loved one is one of the toughest jobs you will ever do. At times it is frustrating, terrifying, overwhelming and exhausting. It also is one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do. Just as you care enough to be your loved one’s helper and caregiver, caring for yourself through this season of your life will allow you to give the greatest gift of all… your love and care to another.