A retired professional and active volunteer at a local museum reached into her pocketbook and pulled out a picture from her wedding day 50 years ago. She said, “I brought this to show you because the day I married my husband we didn’t know then what the future would be like and I feel the same way now that he has become ill and I have become his caregiver.”
As is the case with so many couples, this caregiver had been living a full life with many interests, friendships, and commitments that brought her great joy. When her husband suddenly needed her, she felt pulled by her desire to show her love through caring for him, yet stung by the fear that she would lose herself and the things she loved in her life.
My conversations with her and other caregivers—who care for a spouse, parent, or child—often focus on creating strategies to maintain both a connection and commitment to a loved one, while at the same time hold onto one’s own identity. Taking care of the caregiver is extremely important not only for the caregiver, but those around them, including who they care for. Below is a quick and easy caregiver self-care checklist.
Use Stress- Reduction Techniques
Practice the 5 P’s— Prior Planning Prevents Poor Preparation. By taking time to prep for a brand new day tomorrow, you will have more of a sense that you’re in control of a situation, giving you the confidence you need to seize the day.
Celebrate small wins. Celebrations can include giving yourself a pat on the back, high-fiving someone, or saying “great job” to yourself. Small celebrations fuel your motivation, boost inner work life and ultimately make progress in meaningful work.
Write things down. Jot down (with a pen and paper) your thoughts, feelings, and ultimately what’s worrying you. This technique helps you work through your problems by helping you feel less alone and helpless.
Exercise. Not only does exercise release endorphins that can relieve pain, produce feelings of pleasure, reduce stress and increase relaxation, it also promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression and increases alertness. What’s holding you back? Get up, and get moving!
Make A Date With Yourself
Each week, set aside some time strictly for you and what you enjoy. It could be a walk in the park, a new movie that you’ve been wanting to see, or time for a hobby such as writing or painting. Alone time allows you to unwind, relax and simply disconnect. In the long-run, alone time reboots your brain, improves concentration and increases productivity.
Attend to Your Own Healthcare Needs
While you can’t control the chronic or progressive illnesses of someone special you care for, you can take responsibility for your own personal well-being and health. In order to care properly for someone else, you need to ensure your own health needs, mentally and physically, are met. Stay on top of your doctor check-ups, and if you are not feeling well, see your physician immediately. It’s okay to put you first at times, especially when it comes to your health.
Accept Support and Advice For Caregivers
Often caregivers hold back when they discuss their situations because they don’t want to seem disparaging of those they love, and believe that others may be tired of listening. Sometimes support can come in surprising ways. For instance, one caregiver discovered that two friends in her synagogue were also taking care of loved ones. They agreed to provide needed emotional support for one another. Since these three caregivers were also friends, they felt free to discuss their less-than-lovely thoughts and emotions, while reassuring one another that their concerns and feelings were “normal” for their situations. Through conversations and phone calls, they were able to reassure one another that they were not alone in their struggles.
Stay In The Moment
All of us have to make plans for future events and contingencies, but living too much in the future can be overwhelming and often lead to anxiety. While there are difficult moments in a caregiver’s day, it’s important to remember these moments will pass and stay in the present moment. There are also moments of grace and even happiness. Watching birds at the bird feeder, enjoying a favorite food together, or hearing a favorite song can bring a moment of connection and peace. Make it a habit to look for those moments, notice them and embrace them. You can practice staying in the moment by teaching yourself to relax using visualization, affirmations or a technique known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that helps you develop your ability to observe the present moment with acceptance.
Assistance For When a Caregiver Is Not Present
While caregivers can’t be with us 24/7— a Medical Guardian medical alert system can be. Whether you enjoy staying homebound or enjoy taking in the fresh air outside, we have a medical alert system that will fit your lifestyle. With the push of a button, you will be connected to highly- certified emergency operators from our U.S.-based round-the-clock monitoring centers. Whether you need emergency assistance including EMT help or non-emergency assistance including help from a neighbor, assistance will immediately be on the way.
By MG Guest Blogger Wanda Sevey, MDiv, LMFT. Wanda Sevey has a Master’s of Divinity and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is focused on helping people develop healthy relationships and self-care. She has a practice with the Council for Relationships in Voorhees, NJ.