Caregiving can undoubtedly be rewarding and fulfilling. However, the duties and responsibilities that come with the service can be physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing.
Learn not only the common challenges of the job but how to take care of yourself as a caregiver.
The Challenges of Being a Caregiver
Caregiving isn’t all hard work. It can be connecting and rewarding as well. However, caregiving also has moments of stress, overwhelm, and complex demands.
Often, caregiving requires the caregiver to learn new skills, get trained in tricky maneuvers, and put someone else’s needs first. In fact, the term “caregiver stress” has been used to encompass the emotional and physical strains that caregiving introduces into one’s life.
Signs of caregiver stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling isolated or alone
- Feeling deserted
- Feeling worried or sad much of the time
- Excessive sleep or lack of sleep
- Changes in weight
- Regular headaches
- Regular body aches
- Tending toward unhealthy behaviors (i.e excessive alcohol or smoking)
With these signs listed out, it’s easy to see how long-term caregiver services can lead to burnout, depression and anxiety, weakened immunity, severe weight loss or gain, and even chronic disease.
Why Self-Care Is Important
Caregiving typically includes routine tasks, such as meals, finances, scheduling, appointments, bathing, and the list goes on. Sometimes, monotonous tasks seem like they are chipping away at self-confidence. All too often, as recent research shows, caregiving increases the risk of chronic disease and unhealthy habits.
The proper prevention (and often the cure, too)? Self-care. A form of support, self-care is an essential tool for every caregiver to have in their toolkit if they want to thrive while caring for someone else.
While it can be rewarding, caregiving exacts a significant cost on caregivers. Every area of their health, including financial health, physical health, and emotional health, can get sidetracked if self-care isn’t employed. Between stress and other demands on your time, it’s important to prioritize your own health as a caregiver.
How Caregivers Can Take Care Of Themselves
Practical tips for taking care of yourself while caregiving includes starting with small tasks, setting healthy boundaries, and starting and sustaining healthy choices.
1. Start With Small Tasks
When taking care of someone else’s daily chores, your own can easily feel overwhelming. Employing the philosophy “if it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now” can help you to accomplish small tasks quickly.
Turning chaos and clutter into order and organization can take just a couple of minutes everyday, and is a subtle form of self-care
2. Make Healthy Choices
Don’t just help your patient or loved one to thrive. Use the education you are receiving for them for you, too! Elevate your nutrition, exercise, and habits to higher health as you learn new skills.
3. Set Healthy Boundaries
Whether it is a friend, family member, or stranger you are taking care of, learn when to say “yes” and how to say “no.” Part of self-care is knowing what opportunities will support you in taking care of yourself. Don’t feel obligated to do something that puts your own health in jeopardy.
4. Obtain Enough Sleep
Proper sleep hygiene isn’t just for the elderly. Get the right amount of sleep for you, too. This means getting quality sleep that helps you feel rested when you wake up (approximately 7-9 hours a night for adults).
Begin with a restful bedtime routine, and don’t hesitate to meet with a health professional to get your sleeping schedule back on track.
5. Take Time to Move
What you’ve heard about exercise is true! It really does help produce “happy hormones” in your body and can improve your mood.
Studies link even gentle physical movement (such as walking or gardening) to numerous potential health benefits.
6. Be Present
“Be present” may seem like a vague idea, but there are many practical steps you can take to feel a little less anxious each day. Experts recommend using meditation apps each day on your phone, learning about deep breathing exercises to promote a balanced body state, journaling, and even adult coloring books for mindfulness.
7. Socialize and Find Support
Even when you are going this alone, you don’t have to feel alone. Whether online or in-person, support groups and social communities can help you find purpose and meaning in your work. Thank goodness for technology to connect us when travel isn’t an option!
8. Keep Regular Appointments
Staying on top of your patient’s appointments may seem like a lot, but that doesn’t mean you should cancel your own. Making time to attend your doctor, therapy, and other important appointments is a simple way to perform self-care. At these appointments, professionals can help you participate in regular screenings to see how you are really doing (from a qualified, outside perspective).
In that same vein, be sure to keep up with your own medications and prescriptions that assist you in feeling your best.
9. Trying Animal Therapy
Wait, another living thing to take care of? It can seem counterintuitive to get a pet when you are struggling, but a furry companion may be just the thing you need to relieve day-to-day stress.
Additionally, pets can help you get outdoors each day and feel the sun on your face (whether it is a quick bathroom break for an older dog or a longer walk for an energetic puppy).
10. Schedule “Me” Time
Sounds simple, right? It can be harder than it seems to block out time for yourself in a busy day. However, taking time for yourself can allow you to fulfill your own needs. This space and time devoted to yourself will allow you to feel fulfilled and relaxed outside of your tasks as a caregiver.
In Summary On Self-Care For Caregivers
To thrive as a caregiver, you first have to learn how to take care of yourself. Luckily, simple and small steps can create significant changes in the way you feel.
Start preventing or recovering from caregiver stress with the top 10 care tips in this article.
Caregiver Health. MedlinePlus. Published May 2020. https://medlineplus.gov/caregiverhealth.html.
Coping with Caregiving. NIH. Published December 2017. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/special-issues/seniors/coping-caregiving.
McMorrow P. 14 Life-Changing Tips to Relieve Caregiver Stress. Caregiving Bridge. Published August 2018. https://www.caringbridge.org/resources/techniques-to-relieve-caregiver-stress/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw1ZeUBhDyARIsAOzAqQL73OKTFfkVUKv112IJQyMIii0coREr_wF2rYJZYdjQRJmNJf_mLtAaAu72EALw_wcB.
The Regents of The University of California. Self-Care for Caregivers. UCSF Health. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/self-care-for-caregivers.