Self-Care Tips for Caregivers
by Guest Blogger, Beverly Nelson
A wise person once said, “Sometimes, asking for help is the most meaningful example of self-reliance.” When you’re responsible for taking care of someone else, it can become all too easy to lose yourself and your needs while caring for the person who depends on you.
When you’re a caregiver, without taking precautions, you can run the risk of burnout, experience higher stress levels, and even resent the person for whom you’re caring. Banish the mindset that taking time for self-care is selfish.
Self-care is a necessity, but what does it look like? Here are some ideas, which you can adapt to your particular needs and situation.
Join a support group. Whether you’re caring for someone with cancer, Alzheimer’s or another short- or long-term illness, find a group and join it. When you attend weekly or monthly meetings, sharing stories and advice about caregiving and self-care will help you to avoid compassion fatigue and caregiver PTSD.
Prioritize getting a healthy amount and quality of sleep. A constant state of being overwhelmed can lead to restless nights, but a lack of shuteye can also cause ongoing stress. And as much as anxiety can cause restlessness, so can an outdated mattress and bedding set. If it’s been seven or more years since your mattress was replaced, your physical and mental health will benefit from sleeping on a new one. Beds-in-a-box are becoming an increasingly popular option for time- and budget-conscious shoppers, because they’re priced competitively with those in stores, and are available online and shipped straight to you. One of the most popular options available is the Leesa Mattress—its reviews score a near-perfect 4.8 out of 5! Similarly, if your bedding has lost its softness, treat yourself to a new set, and think about looking for material that will help you get the best quality of sleep. For example, if you find yourself waking up night after night feeling overheated, opt for a set of cooling sheets and a light comforter.
Celebrate all victories—even small ones. If you’re forgetting the little victories because they’re overshadowed by more setbacks, try journaling. Gratitude journals provide a way to remember each day’s successes; when you get discouraged, you can remind yourself of those victories.
Ask for help. Don’t try to do everything alone, even if you’re convinced that you’re the only person who can do what’s needed. Others might do it differently, but focus on what you can control. Secure respite care. Ask family members, church members, friends, or trusted neighbors to stay with your patient so you can run errands or take a walk.
Focus on what you can control. You can’t wish or pray a disease away. You can’t force family members to help more. You can’t control how other people respond, react, or behave. But you can focus on how you react to problems and—here’s the hard part—be willing to give up some control. Delegating is great! Micromanaging everything and everyone? Not so much.
Give yourself a break. Schedule daily “me time.” Put it on your calendar just as you would any other appointment. You could:
- Meet a friend for coffee, or invite a friend over if you can’t leave the house.
- Prioritize activities that give you pleasure, whether it’s crafting, gardening, jogging, playing with the kids, watching a game, or experimenting in the kitchen.
- Pamper yourself—schedule a manicure or pedicure one week and a massage the next. Soak in the tub with a good book and glass of tea each night before bed. Buy fresh flowers for the house. Splurge on gourmet coffee. Treat yourself to something that makes you feel good.
Be good to your body. Don’t neglect exercising—even if you can’t get to the gym regularly, block out 15 – 30 minutes daily for some activity. Break it up into three 10-minute blocks if you must. Eat well by choosing healthy foods over sugar and caffeine.
Be good to your mind. Exercise helps fight fatigue and relieve stress, which helps to calm your mind. Do yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation.
When you’re stressed, don’t self-medicate with addictive substances. Doing so puts you at risk for serious issues. Instead, grab some fresh fruit or make yourself some tea. Take deep breaths—and if you can get away for a few minutes to walk around the neighborhood to clear your head, do so. Call or text a friend or find some funny videos on YouTube. These tips from caregiver.org suggest other great ways to reduce and manage stress.
If you are a caregiver and you’re experiencing signs of burnout, like poor health, sleeplessness, stress or anxiety, feeling sad, gaining or losing weight, feeling overwhelmed, or you’re becoming easily angry or irritated, take a step back before those feelings worsen.
The emotional and physical demands of caregiving can tax even the strongest, most resilient, optimistic person. Caregiving can feel like the loneliest, most isolating job on the planet, but you are never alone. You’ve got this! And if you’re looking for more resources, check out this list from the American Psychological Association.