When you become a family caregiver of someone you love, the priorities in your life are sure to shift. Those who are caring for a parent often juggle careers, household chores, raising children and other obligations along with the responsibilities of caregiving. With all of these important duties demanding their attention, caregivers often neglect their own health needs and personal desires.
Far too often, caregivers find themselves suffering from anxiety, high blood pressure, frequent illness, fatigue or depression because they’ve neglected their own needs for too long. It’s important for caregivers to recognize the areas where they fail to take care of themselves and come up with solutions to make sure they’re staying as healthy and fulfilled as possible.
The Importance of Self-Care for Busy Family Caregivers
If you’re like many caregivers, you may need some convincing to realize just how important it is to take care of yourself. Understandably, our own needs appear small compared to those of the person we’re caring for, but it’s not always fair to make unweighted comparisons – especially when our own health suffers, too.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance®, self-care is the first step in becoming a good and capable caregiver. In fact, they describe taking good care of your health as the only way you can provide quality care, stating, “Not taking care of yourself may be a lifelong pattern, with taking care of others an easier option. However, as a family caregiver you must ask yourself, ‘What good will I be to the person I care for if I become ill?’ […] Breaking old patterns and overcoming obstacles is not an easy proposition, but it can be done – regardless of your age or situation.”
More than just your loved one’s caregiver, you are an individual deserving of happiness and fulfillment. If feelings of guilt, unworthiness or extreme stress keep you from taking the time and resources to care for yourself, it’s important to recognize those feelings and start breaking down the barriers they create.
How to Best Care for the Both of You
If self-care isn’t something that comes easily to you, experts suggest attempting to change your habits and behavior step by step. Unlike the effects of disease or injury on the loved one you are caring for, you have control over your own actions that influence your health and well-being. The Family Caregiver Alliance® outlines several tools for working toward a lifestyle of good self-care:
- Reduce Your Personal Stress – There’s no denying that stress is a part of the job when it comes to caregiving. However, how you let stress affect you and how you respond in stressful situations is entirely up to you. Take steps to learn a healthy approach to stress, such as identifying sources of stress, deciding what you can and can’t control about the situation and finding ways to reduce your negative feelings (walking, listening to music, talking to a friend, etc.).
- Set Realistic Goals – Just as setting achievable goals for your loved one’s care can help you avoid feelings of stress and defeat, making realistic goals for your own care will make it easier to start feeling better sooner. If your long-term goal is to get to the point where you feel comfortable taking a two-week respite from caregiving, make short-term goals, such as taking a few hours off once a week or taking your loved one to an adult day center for the afternoon.
- Seek Solutions to Your Problems – Even if you don’t readily find a great solution to a problem, taking the initiative to fix it can still give you a sense of control and confidence in yourself. Once you identify a problem – for example, you feel as though you have to do everything yourself – start brainstorming possible solutions and try them out. Try asking a friend you trust to pick up your loved one’s prescriptions, or hiring a home care nurse to help out with administering their injections. Evaluate how these potential solutions affect your stress level and amount of spare time.
- Ask for and Accept Help – When a family member or friend asks how they can help you, don’t reject their willingness to make your job easier. Although, be conscientious about what you ask a helper to do. For example, if a friend looks after her grandkids frequently, don’t ask them to stay with your loved one while you run errands. Instead, perhaps they could help by making some frozen dinners for you to pick up. It helps to keep a list of tasks on hand, so if someone asks to help (or you seek out help), they can choose what works best for them.
- Communicate with the Doctor – Don’t neglect concerns about your own health, and take the time you need to make appointments with your doctor before a condition becomes serious. Additionally, don’t forget that health care professionals (either yours or your loved one’s) are great resources for guidance when it comes to the medical questions you have about caring for your loved one.
- Start Exercising – It may be the easiest thing to let slide, but exercising is also one of the easiest ways to keep you staying healthier longer. Try taking just 15 or 20 minutes each day to get some exercise and increase your heart rate. Even going for a walk with your loved one or vacuuming the floors can help you get in a good chunk of physical activity.
Find Support from Those Who Understand
These tips are just a few suggestions on ways to start caring for your own health and happiness while you take on the role of family caregiver. However, we all experience life differently, and you may find other solutions that work best for your situation. Perhaps you could use some more support on learning effective ways to practice self-care.
For any of their senior living needs, seniors and their family caregivers will always find support at Tuscan Gardens. We understand the complex emotional and logistical challenges that come with caring for someone in need, and we’re here to help you know that you’re not alone in this journey. There are experienced care professionals at our community that would love to help you find the right balance of responsibility and self-care in your life.