Caring for a loved one is stressful, tiring, frustrating and also a very important and much needed role. It is job that you learn on the go. There is no ‘right’ way and it is a responsibility that requires constant adjustments. Most caregivers will also tell you, it is a role that comes with a lot of judgment.
As a caregiver, I admit to putting myself on the back burner many times. The more I did it, the more everyone suffered. I would feel extreme guilt for wanting to see my friends, go to a movie, or just have some me time. Outsiders always seemed to think I wasn’t doing enough, had their opinions on what I should be doing instead, however those that spoke out were never willing to show up and help.
What I have learned in my years of caregiving is that you cannot be an advocate for your loved one if you are not taking time for yourself. You are important. Your health is important. As the saying goes, you have to put on your oxygen mask first before you can assist someone else with his or hers.
The National Alliance for Caregiving has stated that more than half of all caregivers say they do not have time to take care of themselves, and just under half said they if they do, they are too tired to do so.
It is important for family caregivers to find a personal routine that will elicit balance and recovery for one’s self. This will vary from individual to individual, and there is no right or wrong way. You have every right to focus on yourself at times while being the ringleader in this circus called caregiving.
Below are some ideas to help ease the pressures caregivers are under:
- Write: It is important to have an outlet for the stress and heartache that is endured each day while also remembering the positives that occur. Try writing down 1-3 things that you are grateful for at the start of each day. In the evening, reflect on the day. This is your chance to let it all out. And if possible, write something happy or funny that occurred during the day that will lighten the mood.
- Nutrition: Those we care for tend to be picky eaters if they still have the ability to consume food. Try quick, simple healthy meals that are easy to put together. I recommend Clean Eating for Kids. The recipes are easy to make and reminds our loved tend to revert back to wanting foods that remind them of their youth. Also, drink lots of water. It is easy to get caught up in caffeinated and sugary drinks, but water is so important to our organs, energy levels and overall health. Try adding some flavor to your water, this will also help your loved one stay hydrated.
- Set Boundaries: No your limits and don’t sway from them! If there is a family member that is on your case, limit their visits. (Hard to do but a must). This also means know when to ask for help. If something is out of your scope, or too much, ask someone who is capable and has the time. It is a difficult to ask for help but people are not mind readers, and the ones who dive in to assist you may surprise you.
- Movement: Many people neglect exercise because it can seem time consuming, or require too much energy. If you can get 20 minutes of activity in 3 times a week while your loved one is sleeping, watching TV etc. you will feel so much better. Overtime your energy will increase. You can even break those 20 minutes up into 5-10 minute increments throughout the day.
- Sleep: One of the most challenging aspects of caregiving. You hardly get any but if you can have a few thing you can do at night that help calm your body and mind the sleep you get will be so much more refreshing. Things to try; baths or aromatherapy, candles and 5 minutes of reading or soft music, meditation, and/or a cup of tea.
The goal of these self-care tips is to allow you to be more patient, less frustrated, and less resentful. Without these small recharging moments, the caregiving role can have the capacity to burn you out and leave you sick, depleted and unable to care for the one you love.
It is important to remember that caregiving does have its upsides too. There is an intimacy and deep bond that occurs with family caregivers that is not present in any facility. You know your loved one better than anyone else. You also can exchange untold stories, learn lessons about life, and feel a deeper love when that loved ones recognizes that you are there for them and only them.
There will be hard times but appreciate the loving experiences along your journey.