Caregiver responsibilities can be overwhelming and draining, but taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do. The stronger you remain—physically and mentally—the more support you will be able to offer. To adequately give care, you must take care of yourself. In this section we will discuss four concrete ways that you can do so, including tips and advice for each one.
Know your limits
Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop. In addition to all of the things you need to do in your home, at work and with your family, you now have a new set of responsibilities. You may feel like there are more things to do than there are hours in the day, and that is perfectly normal. It’s important for you to accept that you can’t do it all, and that your personal health and wellbeing is just as important as the to-do list in front of you.
Be realistic about how much you can do and what you can’t do, and pay attention to these warning signs:
- Do you often feel that no matter how much you plan or how hard you work, things are not getting done?
- Are your caregiving responsibilities interfering with your work, your relationships and your health?
- Do you feel exhausted and tense most of the time?
If so, ask for assistance from others. Make a list and let others know what would be most helpful to you.
Make healthy choices
Caregiver stress is the daily physical and emotional “wear and tear” that comes with taking care of your loved one. The more stress you are under, the more strain you may feel on your mental and physical health. Building resilience (being able to recover) to help you “bounce back” from stressful times is self-nurturing and can have real health benefits.
Follow these tips to build resilience through healthy choices:
- Schedule time to eat regularly and follow a healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly to relieve stress and promote good health.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
- Your body needs rest to recover from stress. Get enough sleep to recover from fatigue and re-energize.
- Get regular checkups with your healthcare provider. Talk to him or her about the best diet and exercise routine for you.
- Ask a family member or friend to stay with your loved one so you can take time for yourself.
- Stay connected with friends and plan to do something fun on a regular basis.
- Take a stress management class to learn about coping techniques that may be helpful.
- Take advantage of community resources for caregivers, such as respite or home health care.
- Develop a positive attitude. There will be situations that you cannot control. Do not feel guilty.
Accept your feelings
Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. You may feel angry about what is happening to your loved one. You may feel out of control, because your life has changed so much, and anxious, because you cannot “fix everything”. You may also have guilty feelings that come and go when you try to do more and more, but find that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.
When the future is uncertain and you are taking on the bulk of responsibilities, it is easy to feel alone and helpless. It’s important for you to realize that the best thing you can do to start feeling better is to accept your emotions. Strong emotions are a part of caregiving and if you don’t recognize and understand them, they can lead to burnout.
Here are some tips to help you cope with your emotions:
- Be aware of your feelings and accept them, as opposed to pushing them away. Expressing them appropriately is a healthy choice. Develop a support network just for you. Reach out to family, friends, and professionals like counselors, therapists and other health care professionals with whom you can comfortably share your feelings and make sense of them.
- Find some quiet time and reflect on your journey as a caregiver. You will find that there are successes in every story.
- Join a caregiver support group where you can safely and comfortably share your story with people who are living similar experiences. Many caregivers that attend support groups find hope and strength in these meetings.
- Keep a journal about your experiences and how they make you feel. Talk to your healthcare provider about any feelings of anxiety and/or sadness that won’t seem to go away.
- Be open to seeking professional help from a therapist or trained counselor. Professional counselors and therapists can provide exceptional support and guidance, in a safe and supportive setting.
- Contact your local hospital or a community wellness center for information about mental and emotional health.
Learn how to “problem solve”
Problems don’t follow the basic rules of politeness. They don’t wait for the right time before they come knocking, or go away quietly if it isn’t a good time for you. Caregiving can bring new challenges into you and your loved one’s lives, and you will both need to work together to overcome them. Problem solving is about working through the details of a situation to reach the best possible results. The more of an organized, step wise process you create, the less stressful and overwhelming it will be for you.
Here are some tips to help you work through challenges. Be sure to work through these steps in writing as well as in your head.
- Describe a particular problem or uncertainty. What are you most worried about?
- To understand the issue more clearly, talk to a family member or a friend about it. Others may interpret it differently and provide helpful information.
- Narrow down the best possible solutions. What information is most relevant to the problem?
- Write down all possible solutions.
- Of these solutions, what will help your loved one the most?
- Choose the best possible solution to the problem and list out what steps need to be taken.
- Put your plan into action.
- After you have put your plan into action, evaluate the results. Are you satisfied with the way things worked out? What might you do differently in the future?