A caregiver can be a child, a friend, a spouse, a neighbor, a favorite cousin – anyone who looks after someone who is sick or disabled. People often say that they became caregivers after someone they love went through a life trauma. That trauma could be a stroke, an accident, or a severe illness.
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You mow the lawn for your neighbor, call the doctor for your parent, go to the grocery store for your adult son, and soon you’re assisting him full-time. According to some estimates, over 65 million people (29 percent of the U.S. population) fill this role for somebody else. They are generally unpaid, but the value of their services has been pegged at $375 billion per year. On top of that, plenty of caregivers juggle a family and a job, as well. For as much as you love the person you’re providing for, all those obligations can be exhausting. So here are some strategies for maintaining self-care while giving care.
If Caregiving 101 was a course, here are some of the duties you’d master:
- Prepare all the meals.
- Declutter the living space so your loved one can move around without falling.
- Monitor the medical plan to make sure that your loved one is attending checkups and using the right prescription.
- Anticipate medical needs. (Is his condition getting better or worse?)
Finally, simply provide companionship, since this person may not get out very much, and loneliness can be as crushing as any physical ailment.
Now imagine that you have mastered all the duties above. That’s quite kind, but the secret to not burning out as a caregiver is to take care of you, too. Self-care essentially means attending to your basic needs, which can be divided into physical and mental needs. Let’s start with the physical.
Develop a daily rhythm that nurtures your body. Try to get eight hours of sleep to stay alert and upbeat. Stick to an exercise plan so that you’re energetic while caring for someone. Finally, work enough whole grains, fruits and veggies, and omega-3 fish like salmon into your diet, and cut way back on sodas and fast food.
Attending to your mental health is just as important as keeping up with your physical goals. Each night before bed, do something that calms you. Instead of scrolling through Facebook, read a book or journal your thoughts or drink tea and simply be present. On that note, set aside 5-10 minutes a day to meditate. Also, it’s OK if you find your role as a caregiver to be overwhelming. Just be sure to seek a caregiver yourself, such as a counselor or a therapist who can help you find focus in your life.
Importance of Not Self-Medicating
If you’re raising a family, holding down a full-time job, and caring for someone else, you may feel exhausted while trying to fulfill all your commitments. At such times, self-care may seem ineffective, and self-medicating your stress with drugs and alcohol might seem tempting. Drugs and alcohol throw us into a cycle of deepening our dependency, making us anxious about that dependency, and leading us to self-medicate more to suppress the anxiety. The cycle keeps turning until it becomes a spiral. Suddenly, we’re unable to care for the person in our charge.
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When you care for someone else, be as nurturing as you can, but don’t neglect your own needs. Be kind to yourself, so that your inner health will radiate out onto the person you’re assisting.
Author: Harry Cline is creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.