If you’re providing care for a loved one, you’ve probably been raised to be unselfish, to put the needs of others ahead of your own, and to care for those who need help. Oftentimes, caregivers are predisposed to think of others first, so much so that they often neglect their own basic needs. It may feel perfectly natural to do so, but it’s important for the loved one in your care as well as yourself that you pay careful attention to your mental and physical needs. Caregiver burnout is a common occurrence, the result of a selfless, give-first nature. It’s a commendable attitude, but it does no good if both you and your care subject suffer for it. Caregiving can be an exhaustive, demanding responsibility. Fortunately, there are many ways you can care for yourself without short changing your loved one.
Take Breaks and Ask For Help
If you’re providing care day and night, it’s essential that you take at least a couple of 20- or 30- minute breaks. Find a family member or friend who can step in while you’re catching your breath or taking a nap. If you’re providing round-the-clock care, you’ll need to take a day off every now and then. When you do, separate mentally and physically from the situation. Do things you enjoy and which recharge your mental batteries. Get a massage, go to the gym for a couple hours, or spend the afternoon reading a book.
Also remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself, so offload what you can. No time to take Fido to the dog park? Hire someone to take care of dog walking duties a few times a week. Is the house a mess? Bring in a housekeeping service a couple of times a month. You only have so much energy and so much time in the day, so don’t feel guilty about calling in for professional help for the tasks you really don’t have to do on your own.
Exercise is also important to your mental and physical well-being, even when you’re feeling worn out. Go for a jog or ride a stationary bike. Exercise outdoors as much as possible to take advantage of the fresh air and sunshine. You’ll feel better and more upbeat – physical activity activates “feel-good” chemicals in your brain, like dopamine and melatonin. If you’re not accustomed to doing vigorous, high-impact exercising, try something a bit more relaxed, such as tai chi or walking. The idea is to improve your mental outlook and feel better about yourself and your situation.
Don’t Cheat Yourself of Sleep
Busy people who have a lot of responsibility often try to make it all work by stinting on sleep. That’s a bad idea if you’re in a situation where you need to keep your energy level up. Everyone needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to stay healthy and remain effective as a caregiver. Arrange your schedule so that you and your care subject are on the same sleep schedules. That way, you can make time to nap while your loved one is asleep. If you have trouble getting to sleep, try reading a book or watching a little TV before bedtime. Above all, avoid caffeine, and don’t eat a heavy meal before going to bed.
Tickle Your Funny Bone
Find ways to get a good laugh every now and then. Dial up a funny video on YouTube or watch a movie that always makes you laugh. Humor is essential when you’re in a tense situation with someone who needs a lot of attention, and laughing every now and then is a good way to help cope with a difficult situation.
Diet is an important part of staying healthy. Make a point of eating a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, protein, nuts and low-fat dairy. It’s easy to fall into the fast food routine when you don’t have much time to yourself. Start with eating healthy snacks and switching from soft drinks to water and all-natural fruit drinks (make sure they’re low in sugar and sodium). Eating healthy will increase your energy level and make you feel a lot better.
You probably have additional self-care tactics you rely on to see you through difficult situations. Self-care is a highly personal matter. Remember that what truly matters is that you practice it every day.
Lydia is the co-creator of alzheimerscaregiver.net, a website that aims to provide tips and resources to help caregivers. Her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Lydia found herself struggling to balance the responsibilities of caregiving and her own life. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with caregivers and seniors. In her spare time, Lydia finds joy in writing articles about a range of caregiving topics.