By Maureen Rulison
Caregiver Support and Resources
Caregiver self care. Now, that’s a loaded topic a lot of people struggle with. If you’re a caregiver – we actually prefer the person-centered term “care partner” – you’re definitely not alone in feeling the stress.
I feel it, too. Every day. For many of us who aren’t good at prioritizing ourselves while caring for an aging loved one, the physical and emotional consequences are severe.
- 72% don’t go to the doctor for their own care as often as they should.
- 58% have worse eating habits than before assuming care partner duties.
- 63% higher mortality rate than non care partners.
The eye-popping stats go on. What’s worse, most of us are at least generally aware their stress is snowballing – making the job harder and damaging our own health. You know the reasons: feeling guilty, overwhelmed and the greatest barrier … time.
How Well Are You Managing Your Caregiver Self Care?
You have to make time. You have to feel OK with filling your own cup. (Helpful hint: you can’t pour from an empty one.) Caregiver self care is essential for you to have the energy, patience and stamina to provide the best care possible for your loved one.
1. Feel OK with Prioritizing Your Well-Being
It’s one thing to say, “I have to prioritize my well-being.” Everyone can agree with that. But most care partners stop there. The most common barrier? Guilt.
You should genuinely feel OK about caregiver self care. Make time for yourself every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Take a walk, read a book, or practice deep breathing. Do things that bring joy and relaxation like hobbies, socializing with friends or meditation.
Caregiver self care is not just important for your physical health, but also for emotional and mental well-being. Providing care for a loved one can be emotionally and mentally taxing, and neglecting self-care can lead to burnout, depression and anxiety. Setting realistic expectations for yourself and seeking support from others can help maintain a healthy balance.
2. Seek (and Accept) Help
Here’s another one care partners tend to get hung up on. So many feel like they’re the only ones willing to sacrifice or assume responsibility. Some believe they’re the only ones who can care for their loved one “the right way.”
Stop that toxic thinking now! Get comfortable seeking (and accepting) help.
A great life-care plan should include support and respite in regular intervals. Accept help from family and friends. Family, friends, community agencies and religious organizations are often happy to help with tasks like grocery shopping, cooking or running errands. Your plan also needs to be flexible and factor who will fill in during emergencies.
Caregivers may feel guilty for accepting help. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
3. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is a must for caregiver self care. Exercise reduces stress and anxiety, boosts mood, and improves overall health. Find an exercise routine that works for you, even if it’s just a short walk around the block.
You can even find exercise routines specifically designed for caregivers, like chair yoga or Tai Chi, which can be done in your own living room. Being physically active helps you stay healthy and energized, and better able to handle challenges. When finished, you’ll feel accomplished and return to caregiving duties refreshed and reinvigorated.
4. Stay Connected
It’s easy as a care partner to become so consumed that you gradually slip away from the outside world. If you’re not careful, days can turn into weeks, months and even years without any meaningful connection outside your caregiver role.
Keep in touch with people who are important to you, whether it’s through phone calls, video chats and/or social media. (Don’t assume it’s their responsibility to reach out first, as they may simply not want to bother you because you’re so busy.)
Staying connected with family and friends is essential for normalcy and to reduce loneliness and isolation. Join social groups or organizations that align with your interests – and carve out time for ACTIVE participation.
5. Eat Well
So many caregivers have trouble eating well. It’s easy to understand why. When pressed for time, as we so often are, we choose easy fast food versus more nutritious meals. Some care partners even neglect to eat while prioritizing the needs of their loved one.
Taking the time to eat well. Your body and mind need fuel. Include plenty of nutrient-rich foods, such as leafy greens, berries, nuts, and lean proteins. Limit processed and high-sugar foods, as these can cause spikes and crashes in your energy levels. Additionally, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
(As a pleasant side effect, your healthier cooking decisions may improve your loved one’s health and make your job easier.)
6. Get Enough Sleep
Caregiver self care requires enough sleep every night, even if it means taking a nap during the day. As a caregiver, it can be challenging to sleep well, especially if your loved one requires around-the-clock care. But it’s so essential.
Lack of sleep can cause fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating, which makes caregiving even more challenging. To improve your sleep quality, establish a consistent sleep schedule, avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, and create a relaxing sleep environment. Ask family members or friends to take over for a few hours. Don’t feel guilty about hiring a professional agency, if possible, to assist care so you can catch some Z’s.
Call your doctor if you’re having symptoms of sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.
7. Set (and Enforce) Boundaries
Set boundaries with your loved one and others involved in their care. It’s important to communicate your needs and limitations, set realistic expectations, and enforce your wishes for your own well-being. If there’s something you can’t do, advocate for yourself so the life-care plan can include other accommodations.
It can be challenging to balance your own needs with those of your loved one, but it helps prevent burnout and resentment. This can include setting limits on the number of hours you can provide care each day or week, delegating tasks, or simply saying “no” when you need a break.
In my career as a life-care planner and Board-certified Patient Advocate, I’ve seen bitterness fester into irreconcilable family feuds without the clear communication. Remember, setting boundaries is not a sign of weakness or selfishness. It’s necessary to operate effectively while seeing to your caregiver self care.
8. See a Counselor
Everyone can benefit from this – even those who otherwise feel OK. See a licensed therapist, counselor, spiritual advisor, or whatever professional is best to help you make sense of powerful feelings. Support groups can also help care partners deal with all of it, if talking one-on-one isn’t your style.
It’s human nature to crave someone to share emotions with. Yet so many avoid this route to caregiver self care, too. Bottling up for months – or even years – is damaging to your own health.
Caregiver Self Care Tips to Be Healthy & Prepared
You can’t take care of your loved one if you’re burned out and sick. Caregiver self care is absolutely critical for your physical and emotional well-being – so you’re healthy and prepared to tackle the heavy work.
Take time to recharge your batteries, relax and do things that bring you joy. Prioritize yourself. You only have one body and mind to be the best care partner possible.
If you need help building a life-care plan that factors caregiver self care, we’re happy to guide the process with compassion and understanding. Contact me at email@example.com.