To be able to care for the people you love, you must first take care of yourself. It is like the advice we’re given on airplanes: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. Caregivers who pay attention to their own physical and emotional health are better able to handle the challenges of caring for someone else. They adapt to changes, build stronger relationships, and recover from setbacks easier and quicker than someone who is mentally and physically worn out. Here are some suggestions for crafting your own self-care strategy.
UNDERSTAND HOW STRESS AFFECTS YOU
Stress affects your entire body; physically as well as mentally. Some of the most common physical symptoms of stress include headaches, low energy, upset stomach, insomnia and general muscle aches, pain, and tension. Emotional stress can manifest in mood and personality changes, sleep disturbances, frustration, resentment, and anger. Identify what symptoms you experience and the event or environment in which you notice them. Once you can do this, you can develop a strategy to cope or avoid this in the future.
PROTECT YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH
Improving your physical wellbeing is linked to your mental health as well. You will have an easier time maintaining good mental habits when your body has a strong foundation. Making sure you are eating well, exercising, taking vitamins, and keeping up with your medical visits can ensure that you are physically up to the task of providing care for others.
When you are a caregiver of an aging family member, it can be incredibly hard to find time for yourself. Even when you do, you may feel distracted by thinking about what you “should” be doing instead. But learning to make time for yourself without feeling you’re neglecting others—the elderly person as well as the rest of your family—is crucial. Being out of “caregiver mode” for as little as five minutes can be a meaningful reminder of who you are in a larger sense. It can help keep you from becoming consumed by your responsibilities. Start small: think about activities you enjoyed before becoming a caregiver and try to work them back into your life.
ASK FOR HELP
A big step, and maybe one of the hardest to take, is to know when to ask for and accept help. It is important to be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Make a list of things that family members or friends can help you with. It can be as simple having someone watch the person you care for while you run errands or asking a relative to pick up some groceries for you. If you feel like you don’t know where to start, Care Right offers Caregiver Support Services such as advocacy for you and your aging loved one, family mediation, and Aging Plan services. Scheduling a free, 30-minute consult can get you started on the road to a happier, more balanced life for you and your family. Click here to visit our page where you can select a day and time that’s convenient for you to speak to a Care Right representative.
Caregivers must come to the realization that it is not only harmful to themselves but also to those they care for if they do not exercise self-care. Many people feel that self-care is “selfish” or that they will be seen as being a failure for taking time off or asking for help. These fears and misconceptions have valid roots, but it’s important to remember the importance of balance. Each person has their own identity, goals, relationships, and an entire life outside of caregiving. The point is not what you do or how often you do it, but that you do take the time to care for yourself. It’s impossible to take good care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself first.