Caring for your loved one is one of the hardest jobs in the world. However, just like any flight attendant will explain, it is important that you put on your own mask before helping the person next to you.
Your job is physically and emotionally demanding, and that strain will show over time. You have to prioritize yourself so that you can be the caregiver you want to be. Don’t believe the lie that it is selfish or unnecessary. It is absolutely necessary, both for your health and the health of your loved one.
Caring for yourself is part of the job description when it comes to caregiving!
Here are some practical tips:
1. Prioritize Your Own Health
Research shows that as a caregiver, you are more likely to ignore warning signs about your own health. It also shows you are less likely to see a doctor or prioritize your own medical appointments. You can’t do this. No matter how much juggling it takes to get to these appointments, they are important. If you think that’s selfish, just ask yourself: what will happen to my loved one if something happens to me?
2. Find Products that Make Your Life Easier and Use Them
Whether it is a transfer board or a gait belt, or making some adjustments to your loved one’s home, take advantage of these tools to make your job easier. These products can also help keep the person you are taking care of safer. Sure, you can keep lifting your mom in and out of bed. But what happens if you throw your back out? Who is going to care for both of you?
3. Make Time for Yourself
Self care is essential for caregivers since your job – and it is a hard one – is to spend a lot of your day caring about someone else’s needs. Find something that brings you joy. Is it reading? Yoga? Getting out of the house and taking a walk? It doesn’t have to be complicated but it does have to bring you joy. It shouldn’t feel like just another “chore.” Choose something that rejuvenates you and has the sole purpose of breathing life back into you.
4. Have a Support System
Call a family meeting and delegate tasks. You simply can’t do everything yourself. Sometimes family needs to be asked specifically to provide what you need. If other family members aren’t available to help, then look to friends, or reach out for professional help.
5. Remain socially connected.
While it can be difficult to keep social appointments with friends and family in the face of caretaking, it is important to maintain social connections to feel less isolated and prevent burnout.
It can be emotionally life-saving to form connections with other people who are going through the same experiences as you are. What a relief to find out you’re not alone in your feelings and reactions. You can find this crucial support through local caregiver support groups. Hospitals and local organizations often offer caregiver support groups for family and caregivers.
5. Have Healthy Habits
You take a lot of care to regulate your loved one’s meals and sleep. But, research shows that caregivers often eat unhealthy diets and are short on sleep. It’s easy to forget about your own meals and needs when trying to help others.
Maintaining adequate sleep and nutrition are key to preventing caregiver burnout. Build a daily 10-minute nighttime routine to achieve more restful sleep. Your nighttime routine can include a simple breathing exercise:
- Find a comfortable seated position on a chair or cushion.
- Close your eyes and begin to notice your breath.
- It is common to have distracting thoughts come and go, but just let them pass, and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose for five counts, hold and pause for five counts,* and exhale for five counts.
- Continue for 10 minutes. You may substitute phrases for the counts such as:
I breathe in calm and relaxing energy.
I pause to let the quiet energy relax my body.
I breathe out and release any anxious or tense energy.
- For deeper relaxation, gradually extend your exhalation, until you reach an exhalation twice the length of the inhalation (10 counts).
*Breathing exercises should not be painful or uncomfortable; if holding your breath is uncomfortable, just eliminate the pause between the inhalation and exhalation.
Missing meals can lead to irritability and fatigue, so it is important to eat regularly scheduled meals throughout the day.
Nutrition can also be an important factor to prevent burnout. Chronic stress has been linked to increased inflammation in the body, so it is helpful to avoid foods that are processed or high in refined sugars, which increase inflammation in the body. Avoid or reduce alcohol, since alcohol both increases inflammation in the body and disrupts quality of sleep.
START SMALL AND SET GOALS
If you’ve been neglecting yourself, it might feel overwhelming to take big steps toward taking care of yourself all at once. Relax, and set small, incremental. Examples of small goals could be:
- I will drink five glasses of water every day this week.
- I won’t skip a meal, no matter how busy I get.
- I’ll take a brisk eight-minute walk on my lunch breaks.
- Each morning, I’ll wake up 20 minutes early to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea alone.
- I’ll sign up for an online support group for caregivers in a similar situation.
I’ll seek out help with caring (from a loved one or friend) to give myself an afternoon off once per month.