When providing care for a loved one, you must first take care of your own physical and mental health. Your capacity to support and address another’s needs is directly correlated to your time spent recharging and renewing yourself. Recent research shows that an estimated 17 to 35 percent of family caregivers place their health in a fair to poor range. To combat this and maintain wellness for you and your loved one, it’s important to talk about the value of self-care for caregivers.
The following sections outline why self-care is vital for those caring for senior loved ones, as well as actionable tips to start your practice ASAP.
Avoid Caregiver Burnout
According to psychologist and author Deborah Rozman, “it’s not that we care too much but more that we don’t know how to manage our care.” When we don’t learn how to set realistic boundaries in our work and personal interactions, we open the door to both emotional anxiety and physical duress. Adding on the responsibilities of caring for an older loved one to our already full plates is a recipe for exhaustion.
As a result of this fatigue, caregivers commonly experience burnout. Signs of this can include, but are not limited to:
- Agitation or irritability
- Headaches and nausea
- Lack of sleep
- Reduced or irregular diet
- Substance abuse
Recognizing these symptoms early is the key to addressing them. If you begin to notice changes in your behavior or mood, it’s not a sign of weakness to talk about your burnout. Self-awareness and healing are forms of self-care!
Get to Know Yourself
Every person is different, and their reactions to specific situations vary based on their unique coping mechanisms and experiences. An essential part of self-care for caregivers is recognizing your own personal stressors and developing tools to overcome them.
If you’re having a hard time pinpointing where to start, reach out to a trusted friend, family member or healthcare professional for extra insight. Many of the strategies you employ to overcome stress may also be applicable in scenarios as you provide care for others. Remember, the patience you show in your caregiving role should also be turned inwardly to yourself.
Build Your Support Network
You can’t care for yourself, your family, and an elderly loved, all on your own (especially for those in the sandwich generation). No matter how organized, driven or passionate you are, you need a support network. The circle we surround ourselves with is a valuable lifeline to use when we experience the pressures of caregiving.
Your network can include anyone from doctors, physicians, friends, family members or even social media connections. Each of these people can serve a different role in helping you take care of personal needs while also providing exceptional care.
A trusted confidant can be a listening ear in a time of need, helping you cope and work through feelings of anxiety, sadness or frustration. In turn, you can also share your successes and daily joys with this network of people. For celebrations or accomplishments, it’s always the more, the merrier. What’s more, this helps lighten your emotional load, which is a form of self-care for caregivers.
Go Back to the Basics
While the formula might seem simple, regular exercise and a healthy diet can be one of your most powerful self-care tools. The joke might be, “you are what you eat,” but it’s not entirely wrong! When we show our body self-love by eating nutrient-rich foods and exercising for a few minutes a day, we practice a valuable form of consistent care. The results often appear incrementally, but facilitate long-lasting and impactful lifestyle changes.
Taking care of your physical wellbeing also gives you dedicated time each day to yourself. While this may seem insignificant, personal wellness routines can keep you sane during stressful periods. Most importantly, you need to be your healthiest and strongest self to take care of another person, a fact that many caregivers forget or overlook.
Self-Care for Caregivers: Start Small and Set Goals
If you’re a caregiver and noticing burnout on the horizon, it’s okay! Take a step back and start setting incremental goals to take care of your needs. Examples of small goals could be:
- I will drink five glasses of water every day this week.
- I won’t skip a meal, no matter how busy I get.
- I’ll take a brisk eight-minute walk on my lunch breaks.
- Each morning, I’ll wake up 20 minutes early to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea alone.
- I’ll sign up for an online support group for caregivers in a similar situation.
- I’ll seek out help with caring (from a loved one or friend) to give myself an afternoon off once per month.
Remember, when you improve your self-care routine, you improve your ability to provide care for others, but it won’t happen overnight. Small changes in behaviors lead to better routines in the long-run.
If you’re a caregiver that needs help planning long-term care for a loved one, please reach out to your nearest Vineyard community.