Being a caregiver can be a challenging job, both mentally and physically. You spend so much time caring for your loved one that you often lose focus of your own health and well-being. Taking care of yourself must come first before you can properly care for others. You won’t be much help to another if you let yourself get stressed and run-down.
Here are nine ways for caregivers to better care for themselves:
1. Take care of your health. See your health care provider for regular check-ups. Fuel your body by eating a balanced diet to ensure that you are getting good nutrition. Get enough sleep. Your body needs at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Sleep allows the body’s natural rebuilding and elimination processes to function at their peak.
2. Stay active. Exercise may seem like the last thing you want to do. It’s important that you carve out time for yourself. Even though you’re busy, start and keep up an exercise routine. Even just a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood can improve your mood and increase your energy. By adding resistance exercise or yoga you can also build strength and flexibility to allow you to better care for your loved one.
3. Maintain your mental health. Caregiving can be mentally exhausting. It’s normal to have occasional feelings of sadness or frustration. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling that way. Forgive yourself. Frequent feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious or depressed should signal you to talk with a professional. At minimum, talk with someone and don’t ignore the signs.
4. Ask for help. You are not a super hero and cannot possibly do it all yourself. Ask for help from other family members, friends or neighbors. Be specific about what you need. Maybe you need assistance with errands, getting groceries, light housekeeping or someone to give you a break for an hour. There are community resources and agencies that you can call on for assistance.
5. Attend a support group. You may find that while friends want to help, they may not understand your situation. Caregiver support groups are available in your community. You will be able to share your story and listen to others with similar issues. You’ll meet folks who are “walking in your shoes” and can offer support and advice. Contact your local agency on aging or local health system for more information.
6. Consider respite care. There are agencies and facilities that can provide you with much needed time away. Some services are provided by volunteers, while others are provided by professionals at a cost. Most respite programs offer care from a few hours a week to several days a week. (Learn more about services available at Kaitlyn’s Cottage and ProMedica Goerlich Center.)
7. Stay focused on what is important. There are days when you feel you have more things to do than you can possibly get done. Concentrate on what has to be done and let the rest go. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and build in some downtime for yourself too. If you push too hard, you’ll risk burn out. Do something special for yourself every week, like a movie, a massage, a walk in the park or a visit with friends.
8. Stay connected. Caregiving can put a strain on family relationships and friendships. Make an effort to keep close to the people you care about. They care about you and can be a great source of strength.
9. Consider a leave from work if able. Juggling work life, home life and caregiving is difficult. If you are still employed, there are options for you to be away from work. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks off to care for a sick relative. Contact your human resource department for more information.
Maintain your health by finding balance in your day-to-day activities. Take time for yourself and seek assistance when necessary. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?
If your loved one needs home care assistance, palliative or hospice care, please visit www.promedica.org/connectedcare to learn about your options.