Caregiving is hard. Whether you are helping your spouse through a long-term illness or a child coming to terms with the fact that your mom and dad are aging, you are probably dealing with the mental, emotional, and physical side effects of caring for another person.
Often when we meet with caregivers, we are focused on finances and care arrangements and all the practical tasks involved in qualifying for Medicaid or making a move to a nursing home. While our end goal is to provide peace of mind for families dealing with difficult transitions, the process is often full of to-do lists and deadlines. We remind our caregiving clients, though, that it’s important to take care of yourself. It’s essential that you eat, and get enough sleep, and get some fresh air every once in a while. You need to take some time for yourself, preferably doing something other than hitting the grocery store or running errands.
We know that finding time for yourself can feel almost impossible, especially when you have many people counting on you. You may be spending much of your free time caring for an aging parent, but that doesn’t mean your spouse doesn’t want to see you every once in a while, or that your kids no longer need a ride to basketball practice. It’s essential, though, to have a few self-care practices on hand to help you ground yourself.
It’s important to take the big steps involved in self-care, like:
- Contact people or organizations that can provide respite care when you need some time off.
- Make it a priority to eat a healthy diet and to get enough sleep at night.
- Socialize. Get together with your own friends so you don’t feel isolated.
- See a counselor if you are feeling so overwhelmed that it is affecting your ability to enjoy your life.
But if you are so overwhelmed that eating healthy means hitting the drive-through at Panera instead of at McDonald’s, you can still take tiny steps to center yourself:
- Breathe. When you are feeling overwhelmed, take just fifteen or twenty seconds to focus on your breathing.Remind yourself that no matter how crazy busy you are, your body will be there, breathing for you.
- Tell yourself you are doing a good job. Think about the things you have done well, and about the concrete ways in which your caregiving has made a difference for your loved one.
- Call or text a friend. Take just a few minutes to remind yourself that you have your own support system – sometimes you just need to reach out.
- Accept help when it’s offered.
Every day in our practice, we see how essential caregivers are to our clients. We see children whose sacrifices mean that their parents can remain in their home rather than move to an assisted living facility. We see people who have become experts on their spouse’s medical condition in order to ensure they receive the best care possible. We are glad to have the opportunity to work with you and help you take care of your loved ones. Just remember to take care of yourself as well.