You might believe the idea of taking care of yourself first as a caregiver is selfish, especially if the one that you take care of needs you in a physical or mental compacity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Don’t believe this self-imposed lie for a moment. The self-care that you give to yourself gives you the ability to care for others. When you deny your own self-care, you may rob your loved-one of a healthy loving caregiver (you).
Give yourself permission every single day to care for yourself as a caregiver.
Caregiving Stress and Exhaustion
The stress and exhaustion that comes with being a caregiver can sneak up on you and quickly turn into burnout. One of the best ways to avoid mental exhaustion is to be aware of the symptoms that stress hormones can trigger in your body:
· Irritability – Are you feeling irritable at what you feel are normal day-to-day activities?
· Weakened Immune System – Are you frequently falling sick to unexplained health issues?
· Digestive Distress – Is your stomach or digestive system causing you distress?
· Headaches – Are you experiencing an increase in headaches?
· Body Pain – Are you experiencing unexplained body pain(s)?
· Weight Gain – Are you gaining weight, especially in the middle section of your body?
· Sleep Disturbances – Are you unable to sleep peacefully at night without outside interruptions?
You can tone down the stress that you feel through exercise, diet, and practices such as yoga, meditation, and deep relaxation techniques, however, your focus must first be set on habitual self-care.
Ways to Take Care of Yourself
It takes at least 21 days to form a habit. As a caregiver, your intentional choice of daily self-care may initially feel like additional work for you, but when it becomes a habit, your body and mind wellness care shifts to an unconscious pattern which reflects in your own health and in the quality and strength of caregiving that you give to your loved one.
Remember self-compassion as you focus on self-care. Give yourself credit for what you do in life. Caregiving is not an easy role to take on and being harsh on yourself can make it much more difficult. The more you practice self-care, the more focused you become, and the results reflect in your ability to care for others, as well as health in yourself.
Four essential management steps for self-care:
1. Set flexible scheduling.
Be realistic—what can you do in a day’s time? Determine what you can accomplish in your workday and do not schedule more into your day than you can manage. Be flexible, leave room in the schedule for the unforeseen challenges that can pop up in any given day.
Flexible scheduling may help you to see what you cannot accomplish as a sole-caregiver, which may lead you to seek assistance. And, yes, that is a positive decision to make. Consider adding in breaks from caregiving to your schedule and goals. That may mean relieving yourself from necessary routine tasks like bathing and grooming, exercise, or preparing meals and housekeeping.
2. Set actionable goals based on what you can provide.
Setting goals for what you want to accomplish in the present or in the future, more than a day or a week out, can be a great tool for taking care of yourself. Your upcoming healthy-self will thank you.
Your goals may look too broad to accomplish entirely at once. Consider breaking your goals into smaller action steps. What bite-sized steps do you need to take to accomplish your goals?
One of your goals may be to reduce your own stress level, for example. What specific steps can you take to obtain your goal? Your action steps might look like this:
· Take a 20-minute walk at least three times a week.
· Take an hour off for lunch each day. Include no planning or thinking about work during your lunch hour, or, leave the premises entirely during your break.
· Devote an hour or two a week towards developing your own hobby. Hire someone to assist you during that time.
3. Set personal health and wellness goals.
Be specific with your own health goals. The more precise you are, the more achievable your goals will be. Ask yourself:
· Exercise. What do I need to do to get some exercise in? Exercise can be completed in short bursts of time.
· Balanced diet. What does a balanced diet look like for me, and how do I ensure I meet my dietary requirements? Establish the parameters of your own nutritional needs, just like you do as a caregiver for your loved one.
· Hydration. Am I drinking enough water, and how do I ensure I do so? Consider pre-measuring water into a container so you do not have to track your water consumption throughout the day.
· Sleep. What are my sleep goals? Restorative rest is immensely important to good health.
· Talk with your physician. Set annual check-up appointment goals with your physician. Determine what preventative medical tests or exams you need each year. Between appointments, keep an ongoing list of items to discuss with your own physician about your own health. Caregivers often seek out their own physicians with concerns about medical care for their loved ones, and then they forget to discuss their own well-being.
4. Remain socially connected.
Caregivers do not intentionally isolate themselves from friends and family, but they frequently end up doing so as they push to meet the demands of their busy schedule. It is important for mental wellness to stay in touch with family and friends. Just by doing so, your body automatically lowers its own stress hormones.
As a caregiver, if you do struggle with making in-person connections with your loved ones, make it a point to send an email, or to telephone a friend or family member. Take a break, however, on a regular basis. Even if it means hiring help so you can recharge your batteries outside of your caregiving role.
Join an online or local support group for caregivers. The sharing of common stories and solutions to problems can go a long way towards lifting the feeling that you are on a deserted island alone with caregiving. Support helps to prevent burnout!
5. Seek and accept help.
When you seek help you aren’t suggesting that you cannot handle yourself as a caregiver. Instead, when you seek help you are broadening your ability to be a caregiver by ensuring every aspect of caregiving is covered without jeopardizing your own sanity and health.
Have people offered to help you and you’ve turned them down? You aren’t alone, as many caregivers don’t accept an outstretched hand that offers help. Instead, caregivers often reply, “I appreciate your offer, but I am fine.”
Are you fine, and what might really help you? Can you answer that question precisely? You may only need help in small increments of time, and this may allow you time to do the tasks that appear to be impossible to complete—incomplete tasks that leave you lying awake at night in a state of worry.
Do you need a break for an hour each day so you can take your own lunch? Or, perhaps you need a break once a week to catch up on paperwork or administrative tasks?
What is respite? Respite is described as a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant. You wouldn’t be a caregiver if you found the role entirely unpleasant, but difficult happens to the best (and all) caregivers.
We have created a Respite Program to give caregivers a needed and welcome break. If you are seeking help a few hours a day or just a few days a month, we’re here to help.
When we care for ourselves, we can care better for our loved ones.