Your loved one’s care shouldn’t come at the expense of your own. However, it’s a truth that’s easier said than done. When someone you love is ailing, it’s incredibly difficult to focus on yourself — even if you can find the time, it’s hard to escape the guilt. But if you want to be an effective family caregiver, self-care is an essential part of the equation. Here’s how you can make it happen.
1. Family Caregivers Need To Stay Healthy
Family caregiver are great for a loved one’s health. Unfortunately, it’s not so good for yours. As the American Psychological Association reports, caregivers have higher rates of depression, physical health problems, and premature mortality than non-caregivers. It’s important not to neglect your own health while caring for your loved one.
Continue to get plenty of sleep each night, eat healthy meals, find time for exercise, and don’t neglect to schedule your own doctor appointments in addition to appointments for your loved one. Learn stress reduction strategies to help you cope with caregiver stress.
2. Find Positive Distractions
Some days, a bubble bath or a walk around the block doesn’t make a dent in your stress levels. When those days hit, what you need is something to take your mind off of caregiving completely.
That may be a hobby, lunch with your best friend, or a sermon at church. Stay away from alcohol and drugs; while it may provide short-term stress relief, substance abuse only leaves you feeling more stressed and worn out in the long run.
3. Automate Safety
You can’t monitor your loved one at every moment. You need to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, run errands, and take care of yourself once in a while. However, family caregivers often find it difficult to relax when away from their charge because they’re worried about what might happen in their absence.
Creating automatic safety measures gives you peace of mind when away from your loved one. Start with the basics by ensuring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order and install a smart home security system so you can monitor door and windows from a distance.
A personal GPS tracker protects against wandering in people with dementia or other cognitive impairments and allows your loved one to call for help in the event of a fall.
4. Hire Help
It’s hard to give up control when you’re a family caregiver, especially when you’ve been named the person in charge of your loved one’s well-being. But not only is it impossible to do everything yourself, it’s not healthy to try. As much as you love the person you’re caring for, you have to take care of your own needs too.
Otherwise, you may burn out completely. Hire help for the areas that it’s easiest to relinquish control; cleaning the house, shopping for groceries, and walking the dog are all great candidates for outsourcing. By hiring someone else to handle menial but time-consuming tasks, you have time to meet your personal needs and more energy to give when you are providing care.
5. Find Support
Caregiving is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. There will be days that wear you down so much, you fantasize about walking away from it all. One of the hardest parts of being a caregiver is not having anyone to share these struggles with.
By connecting with a support group for caregivers, you can find understanding and connection from other people who are going through the same thing.
There’s no getting around it, caregiving is hard work. But despite the difficulties, caring for a loved one shouldn’t leave you feeling exhausted, stressed to your limits, and on the verge of a breakdown. If it is, it’s time to take a step back and consider how you can add more self-care into your caregiving plan, because you can’t care for someone else if you’re not caring for yourself.
About the Author Harry Cline: Harry 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.