Caregivers are often found to be so dedicated to the care of their patients or care recipients, especially loved ones, that they often forget to care for themselves. It is highly important to maintain your own health and well-being, for only then can you take better care of your patient. Caregiving is a very fulfilling job but can be highly stressful.
To be there when needed by a loved one is a core value that any good human would voluntarily provide. However, as time goes by a shift in emotions and roles is nearly certain as caregiver stress which is both emotional and physical takes over. A natural outcome of this is anger, frustration, exhaustion, loneliness and sadness which lead to changes in the caregiver’s own health. Even the most resilient can be overwhelmed when caring for a loved one. Being female, social isolation, lesser formal education, depression, financial difficulties, living with the person you are caring for, a higher number of hours spent caregiving, lack of choice in being a caregiver, lack of coping skills and difficulty in solving problems are some of the risk factors of caregiver stress. The symptoms of caregiver stress include feeling tired, overwhelmed, constantly worried, sad, or getting easily irritated or angry, sleeping too much or too little, gaining or losing weight, losing interest in favourite activities, having frequent headaches, body pain, other physical problems, alcohol or drug or prescription medication abuse. Depression, anxiety, lack of sleep or physical activity and not eating a balanced diet can increase your risk of medical problems such as diabetes and heart disease. If you are a caregiver, make a conscious effort every day to carve out some “Me” time for yourself. The following tips will make your life easier as a caregiver and enable you to preserve your own health and well-being enabling you to care for your loved one better.
Regular physical activity: Moderate-to-vigorous but regular exercise, even a little at a time can enhance your energy levels. It will help reduce stress, maintain a healthy weight, and maintain your blood pressure and cholesterol at optimum levels. Start with walking around the building or the garden or yard.
Heart-healthy diet: Following a heart healthy diet will give you more energy and help prevent other health problems, as well. Snack on nutritious foods when in a hurry or on the go.
Make `Me’ Time: An activity that makes you happy and relaxed, be it walking, reading, cooking, crafts, or listening to music can be therapeutic. So, take time out for it every day.
Let laughter be your best medicine: Look for humor in your every- day life. And it would be great if you can share those moments with your patient. It could be a laughter show on television, a silly movie you have seen or something that tickled your funny bone when you went out or while attending your loved one. Believe me, they need joy more than you do as they near the end of their days on this planet.
Go on a weekly outing: Plan a weekly outing such as visiting a friend, a local coffee shop, a religious event, a hobby class or browsing shops at a mall. If your patient needs constant care, take the help of a friend or a neighbour. They may be happy to contribute an hour or two a week, so that you can get out for a breath of fresh air. Look for Respite Care services in your area that can temporarily relieve you of your caregiving routine or go on a holiday.
Ask for help: Prepare a list of ways in which others can help you, and let them choose what they would like to do. A neighbour, a friend or a family member may volunteer to run an errand, pick up your groceries, cook, or stand in for you when you are away attending an important social function or go on an occasional outing. Find out about caregiving resources in your community such as transportation, meal delivery, housekeeping or classes for the specific disease your patient is ailing with. Take advantage of local resources for caregivers such as the Eldercare Locator or contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to learn about services in your community. Your local AAA can be found online, or in the government section of your telephone directory.
Beware of depression: Caregiving can be a very demanding job that is both stressful and difficult. If you are undergoing depression or experiencing signs of it, talk to a psychiatrist. Depression can often be managed with counselling, talk therapy or medication.
Take care of your finances: Remember, you will have to re-integrate into life later on. So, keep an eye on your finances, and plan for the future. You must work when you need to, for life has to go on.
Let your goals be realistic: Big tasks can be broken down into smaller steps and be done, one step at a time. List your tasks, arrange them in the order of priority, and try to build a daily routine around them. Let hosting holiday meals, parties and social service take a backseat for you are already doing a noble job that is very fulfilling and essential for society.
Keep doctors’ appointments: Do not miss your dentist and medical appointments. You must take care of your health and well-being to be able to care for your loved one. Take your friend’s or neighbour’s help to substitute for you while you are away visiting your doctor. See your doctor regularly. Let them know that you are a caregiver and do not hesitate to mention any symptoms or concerns you might have. Get recommended vaccinations and screenings.
Be Positive: Remember to refresh your mind everyday with meditation, yoga etc and take time out for it. Focus on what you are able to provide. You may feel guilty sometimes, but no one can be perfect. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time. Accept your limitations and make peace with them, letting go of guilt. Congratulate and reward yourself for doing your best. It could be a piece of chocolate or your favourite game on the phone. Take a break, if you are feeling angry or guilty.
Join a support group: You can expect validation, encouragement, and problem-solving strategies for difficult situations in a support group. The members would empathize and understand what you could be going through and you may also create meaningful friendships there.
Stay connected with the world outside: Don’t allow yourself to become isolated. Stay connected with family and friends, who can offer non-judgmental emotional support, even if it’s just by phone or online. Chat with friends about your topics of interest, and not your caregiving role. Dedicate some time each week to connect with friends or family you enjoy being with.
So, follow these tips to make your life better…and you will find that you can integrate caregiving into your life more easily.