Self-Care for Caregivers

There often comes a time in your life where we may need to fulfill the role of “caregiver” for a loved one.  Sometimes this is expected, giving you time to plan and prepare for the role, while other times the need arises overnight.  For instance, a loved one may experience a life changing injury, illness, or disease that thrusts you into the role without any type of warning.  Your life can shift in the blink of an eye, changing your day-to-day routine and expectations.

It’s usually with great love and compassion that you begin caring for a loved one.  However, you may simultaneously feel the difficulties that naturally arise as a caregiver.  You are not a bad person for feeling drained, overwhelmed, or tired from providing for someone else.  These feelings are natural and part of the process.  You can experience both great love and honor when caring for someone, while also feeling frustrated and anxious.  However, if you don’t remember to take care of yourself along the way, your sincerest intentions can suddenly shift to negative feelings of resentment.  To prevent falling victim to this slippery slope, consider practicing these self-care tips, allowing yourself to refresh, reset, and relax along the way!

Prioritize Your Health

You’ve heard it before… you can’t give from an empty cup.  You must first take care of yourself so that you can effectively care for someone else.  By doing this, you will not only meet your own needs, but the one you are caring for will benefit too.  Prioritizing your health may look as simple as eating well-balanced meals, staying properly hydrated, regularly exercising, and getting a good night’s sleep.  This doesn’t have to feel overwhelming or like another item on the “to-do” list; for example, if your loved one is wheelchair bound, consider taking them out for a daily walk to incorporate exercise into your routine.  You will both benefit from the fresh air and change of scenery.

Keep a Realistic “To-Do” List

You can only do so much!  Keep your expectations realistic, and do not overschedule yourself.  Doing so will only lead to burnout, frustration, and disappointment.  Consider applying the “Rule of 3” to your daily routine in order to be more productive and prioritize your time.  Before going to bed each night, determine the 3 most important things that you must achieve the following day and WRITE THEM DOWN.  You now have a game plan for the day to keep you focused and on task.  If you get distracted, you can easily revisit your list to get back on track with the tasks you have deemed most important.  This strategy is also beneficial because sometimes you feel overwhelmed and you’re not sure which direction to go or where to even begin.  This strategy gives you a framework or outline to set yourself up for success.

Open Communication

Keep lines of communication open, clear, concise, and direct among your loved one, you, family and friends, and the medical team.  This allows everyone to be more willing to discuss concerns that may lead to further complications, if not otherwise mentioned.  It may also allow the one receiving care to open up about health complications or emotional distress.  Respect the feelings and rights or others, while maintaining constructive and concise communication.  Remember, one of the most important aspects of being an effective communicator is to be a good listener.

Ask for Help and Accept It

With open communication, sometimes you may have to be quite frank with your dialogue.  This may include opening up about your fears, worries, beliefs, and needs.  Being direct and communicating the need for help is often necessary to ensure that you are a successful caregiver.  As mentioned above, you cannot do it all; there has to be some give and take.  There will also be times when you just need another set of hands or even a break all together!  So often, caregivers turn down help for fear of burdening others or simply because they do not know how to delegate.  Consider keeping a list of areas where you could use help and present the list when someone asks how they can be of assistance.  Furthermore, help may not always be offered, so do not be afraid to reach out when it is needed.

Give Yourself Credit

The care that you give does make a difference.  Simply acknowledging this can make a substantial impact on your own attitude and approach when it comes to caregiving.  Sometimes you need that little pat on the back to keep yourself going.  You can’t always expect to receive it from someone else, so it is okay to commend yourself for a job well-done… even if it doesn’t always feel that way!