Caregivers provide assistance to people who need help with daily tasks such as eating, dressing and personal hygiene. Caregivers may be paid professionals or volunteers (often family members). They often care for children and the elderly, as well as those with chronic medical conditions and development disabilities that also require ongoing help. Caregiving is a demanding profession and many caregivers find themselves struggling to balance taking care of themselves with taking care of others. Here are seven self-care activities each caregiver should be doing:
Take time for your own needs.
Inspirational Pinterest posts make self-care look like it’s all scented candles and yoga meditation sessions. While that can certainly be part of your self-care routine, sometimes self-care is more prosaic: attending your own doctor’s appointment, making yourself real meals instead of snacking in between chores, tracking how much water you drink each day, setting aside enough time to sleep and so on. You can’t take care of someone else if your own health is deteriorating, so don’t always put yourself last (or cancel that dentist appointment yet again). You deserve to spend time making sure that your body and mind is strong.
Maintain a life outside caregiving.
When you become a caregiver, it can be all too easy to let the boundaries of your life shrink until it encompasses nothing but medication schedules and self-dressing tops. Being a part-time or full-time caregiver also makes it harder to maintain friendships. You might not be able to attend late game nights even more, your friends might stop inviting you after you cancel on them enough times or you might forget to text people back to make plans to meet up. While it can sometimes feel like it’s not worth the effort to keep their relationships going, trust us – it is. In fact, maintaining relationships will help keep you connected to the outside world and remind you that there’s more to life than caregiving.
Join a support group.
If part of the reason why you’re reluctant to maintain your friendships is that they don’t understand what you’re going through as a caregiver, then you might want to seek out a support group for caregivers, either online or in your local area. Fellow caregivers might not be in your exact scenario, but they do understand what you are going through to some extent and can provide emotional support that others simply can’t, however well meaning they are. Support groups might also have some practical tips they have learned through personal experience, such as suggestions for adaptive clothing for seniors that can make getting dressed easier on both of you.
Call for backup.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and like you don’t have time to sleep or eat, much less take time to de-stress, that’s a sign that you need to call in some outside help. This can be in the form of hired help, such as a home health aide, but if you don’t have the money for that, then a family member or friend might be able to pitch in. Even if they can’t take over actual caregiving activities for you, such as administering medications, they can definitely help out with making meals, cleaning the house, running essential errands and shopping for easy-to-put-on clothing for the elderly. People can’t read your mind, so don’t assume that they have noticed you’re overwhelmed and declined to offer help. You’ll probably need to ask, but most people will happily say yes.
Figure out what helps you de-stress.
Doing all the yoga in the world won’t help if yoga doesn’t make you de-stress. Do a self-assessment to evaluate what activities lower your stress levels the most, whether that’s painting or going for a walk or playing with your dog. Try to pick coping mechanisms that aren’t completely unhealthy (so, not drinking a lot of alcohol or watching TV for hours and hours). However, they don’t have to be Pinterest-perfect activities such as meditation either. Figure out what works for you and incorporate it into your routine for weekly and daily de-stressing.
Spend time on recreational activities.
You likely have other demands on your time other than caregiving. Maybe you are also trying to raise kids, or working a job outside the home, or simply trying to keep the household going for one more day. When you have so many things to juggle, you can feel pressured to fill every second of downtime with productive activities such as chores. While this packed schedule may make you feel better, it’s a sure recipe for burnout. Make sure that you carve out time each week (and ideally every day) to do something that isn’t productive at all, whether it’s reading a pulpy romance or taking a long bubble bath. Taking time to purely relax and not do anything remotely productive will help you recharge your mental and physical batteries so you can get back to caregiving with more energy.
Look out for signs of caregiver burnout.
Caregivers are susceptible to a particular type of burnout called caregiver burnout. Some common symptoms include fatigue and lack of energy, changes in sleeping and eating habits, feelings of depression or hopelessness, anger and irritation towards the person you are caring for and greater risk of headaches, stomachaches, colds, etc. Watching out for the signs of caregiver burnout will help you catch it before you become completely overwhelmed. If you feel like you might be getting burned out, don’t ignore that feeling! Instead, ask for help and seek out support from others who are going through the same thing you are.
You deserve to care for yourself even as you care for others. Self-care may not always look as exciting and fun as social media makes it out to be, but it’s essential to remaining at the top of your game as a caregiver. Try one of these seven ideas for caregiver self-care.