If you are feeling worn down as a caregiver for an aging loved one, you are not alone. You may feel isolated, at times, desperately needing the support of others and seeking guidance as to how to make your life a little easier. One thing is for sure, all across the country many of us are struggling to care for our loved ones. It’s likely that each one of us will be caring for a loved one in the future. And caregiving is not a short-term commitment.
Being a caregiver takes a toll. This is evidenced both emotional and physically. Unfortunately, our own bodies do not stop needing care while we provide care for others. Many of us are also providing for our own families, still maintaining a day job as well as needing 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.
There are some basic “caring” support measures that we must offer ourselves. Remember, you are a very important person, and you need and deserve proper care.
- Exercise Daily: Whatever our caregiving schedule, we can only take care of others if we 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, this better than no time at all. A walk around the corner is a great way to clear your mind. Exercise truly does relieve stress, increases your energy level and protect your health. Strength training two times a week will help keep your bones strong and your muscles firm. This is important if you are caring for someone else. Every morning, think through your day and try to anticipate little pockets of time you 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 we need to accept, that we also must care for ourselves. We must proactively ask for help and support from outside. Taking good care of yourself and your loved one involves recruiting additional help at times. Even if you feel you do not need extra help now, you will need assistance in the future. Everyone needs a break and time to enjoy their own life. It’s so much better to have peace of mind that the world will go on without you when you need or want time away. Talk to your doctor, a senior care professional, a pastor or others that you trust about your situation. Respite care is an excellent resource for giving you “time off” from caregiving to take care of yourself. Plan ahead by making a list of people you can recruit to help you. Having options 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, or doing whatever helps you to reduce stress. If possible, take time at the beginning and the end of the day to practice these techniques and any other available moments you can.
- Talk: Everyone needs to share their own caregiving 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 that 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 as well.
- 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. Taking time to do something that is not work-related will actually make you a better caregiver. Read a few pages from a book, window shop, take a nap or go to the beach. It is not just okay, it’s vital for your wellbeing.
- Get Enough Rest: If you are lacking on your sleep, your body will soon let you know. Without proper sleep you’re putting your own health at risk. Try to get at least eight hours of rest each night. If you are required to be up at night with your loved one, take naps the following day when your 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 & Simplify: Being a caregiver, a parent, a grandparent, a worker outside the home, etc. 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 may not fit the current demands of your time.
Caring for a loved one is a tough job. At times it’s frustrating, overwhelming and exhausting. It’s also one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do. But, as a caregiver, you know your loved one is reliant on you and wants you to be healthy and happy. We all perform better physically and mentally when we are taking care of ourselves. So make sure you’re not forgetting to make yourself a priority.