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 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.
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 again: what will happen to my loved one if something happens to me?
2. Find Products that Make Your Life Easier and Use Them
This may be the simplest pill to swallow. Whether it is a transfer board or a gait belt, use these tools so you don’t strain your body. These products can also help keep the person you are taking care of safe. 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 hard one – is to spend the majority 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 rejuvenate you and have the sole purpose of breathing life back into you and you alone.
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. They aren’t trying to leave it all on your shoulders– maybe they just don’t know where to start. If other family members aren’t available to help, then look to friends or support groups. Most doctors who treat your loved one will have resources for you.
5. Have Healthy Habits
This means that even as you are regulating your loved ones meals and sleep, you have to do the same things for yourself. As good as it would feel to eat a pint of ice cream every night after they go to bed, eat healthy and get enough sleep. Research shows that caregivers rarely do either of these things, and they are so important. Perhaps the poor sleeping habits are also the reason caregivers can be at a greater risk for depression too (just another reason for you to have a support system!).
You are doing one of the most difficult jobs. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. These tips are practical, but they also may be difficult. Maybe you feel like you don’t need support. That’s for other people. Or you can’t possibly take time for yourself. That would be selfish. These are lies, and the research backs it up. In fact, caring for yourself is part of the job description when it comes to caregiving!
American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2017). Caregivers Taking Care of Themselves. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2N7aBrb
Esposito, L. (2015). 14 Ways Caregivers Can Care for Themselves. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2BCWIMH
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