Being a caregiver for an elderly loved one can be fulfilling and rewarding, but it can also become an all-consuming way of life. With the seemingly endless list of needs and minutia to remember, it is dangerously easy for the caregiver to forget to take care of him or herself. A breakdown of self care will quickly make the caregiver’s life more stressful and unhappy, leading to “burnout” and compromising his or her ability to give effective and loving care.
The beginning of a new year is the perfect time for reflection, self evaluation, and setting goals for a better and brighter year. The following is a list to help caregivers remember how important it is to also take care of themselves.
Caregivers spend much of their time anticipating and meeting the needs of others. To be able to maintain this level of care it is crucial that caregivers also carve out time for themselves. Though it seems backwards, one of most important traits of an effective caregiver is a person who practices contentious self care. Self care involves taking the time to ensure that your own physical, psychological, and emotional needs are being met.
The Tenets of Self Care
Maintain a Network of Friends – It is important that you have your own life, outside of your role as a caregiver. Release yourself from destructive guilt and spend time with your friends. Get out of the house, talk with your peers, go shopping, plan on a mini weekend trip – anything to help keep you connected. Maintaining a life of your own will help you to stay sane, feel happier, and ultimately allow you to give better care to your elderly loved one.
Have a Trusted Confidant – Being a caregiver for a loved one is challenging, often causing anxiety, depression, or emotional burnout. One of the most effective defenses against the stress of being a caregiver is to have a trusted confidant with whom you can share your feelings. Seeking therapy with a licensed clinician is your best option, but your confidant could also be a close friend or family member.
Being able to express your fears, frustrations, joys, and victories with someone receptive and understanding will help support you through the caregiving process.
Ask For Help – Knowing your own limits and being able to ask for help is a crucial part of being a caregiver. Letting go of your control and reaching out for help is often very difficult for caregivers, but it is also a key element of self care. Setting boundaries and learning how to communicate your needs, in the end, will help you become more open and available as a caregiver.
Beyond asking for help from friends and family members, there are helpful resources in your community and even online. There are many support groups for caregivers where you’ll find the guidance and support you need. Going to a local support group and meeting others who share your same experiences can elevate your spirit, create a sense of community, and provide tips for handling the challenges of caregiving. If you are unable to attend local meetings, or are in a more remote area, online support groups are another resource option.
Stay Active and Healthy – Maintaining your own health has to be the first priority. It feels hard to justify taking time for yourself when there are so many things to be done, but without your health you can’t be helpful to anyone.
Though it is seemingly simple advice, making the extra effort to prepare healthy meals and staying active goes a long way toward improving your overall physical, mental, and emotional health.
Positivity - There is a wealth of research supporting the concept of the power of a positive attitude. Those who make the conscious choice to think positively and focus of the good in their lives are happier, healthier, and function at a higher level.
There are many tools to help you practice positivity. You can take simple steps, like opening up curtains and windows to let in light, get outside for a short walk, remember to smile, and purposefully adding humor and laughter to your day. Another tool is to write a daily "thankful list" of two or three things that you are thankful for that day. Play this "glad game" with other caregivers and share your daily lists to help spread your positivity.
Making the commitment to practice self care, will in turn will help you to continue to give high quality care to others.