As a caregiver, how do you care for yourself? Your first answer might well be to eat nutritious meals and/or exercise. You’re certainly on the right track; however, these ideas are only the beginning and caregivers should remember that their own self-care involves not only one, but four dimensions: their own physical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional/social needs.
As a former co-caregiver (Dad had Alzheimer’s disease and Mom had Parkinson’s disease and Leukemia), I found that plenty of stress came with the job. Associated stress here is to be completely expected; caregiving can require additional time (it can well become a secondary full-time job) and emotional strength (it can be immensely painful to watch a loved one decline). To help cope with that stress, I found it necessary to take a well-rounded approach to caregiving and look after all of these needs. You can help yourself and your loved one by following suit. With being human, we all have our own limitations of how much stress we can absorb before we need effective and safe mechanisms to deal with growing pressures. By practicing self-care, you will become a much healthier, happier, and more effective caregiver.
Self-care, at any level, doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. Just try out any, or all, of the following recommendations from my own experience (or incorporate your own ideas):
- Clean your house (it’s amazing how many calories one can burn here …).
- Walk the dog.
- Head to the gym (stretching, lifting weights, using an elliptical, and/or riding a stationary bike will feel good, but don’t overdo it and risk personal injury. Also, ask about guest passes and/or short-term memberships before you commit to any long-term obligation).
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Drink sufficient amounts of water.
- Go to bed early.
- Book a massage.
- Read a book (for busy “on-the-go” caregivers, an e-reader makes for a great idea!).
- Tackle a crossword or wordsearch puzzle.
- Watch a documentary on television.
- Go to the library.
- Tour the local museum.
- Sign up for a continuing education class (look at current interests and explore other areas as well …).
Emotional and social needs:
- Get together with your friends (if you’re waiting for an invitation, extend the offer to meet yourself, if necessary …).
- Spend some quality time with your “significant other”.
- Escape on your own (good company can’t always help to clear your head … sometimes you will need your own space – you could visit the mountains; a lakeside cabin; or a quiet, neighbourhood park bench).
- Join a support group.
- Talk with other current and former caregivers for support and direction.
- Engage in a creative activity: write, paint, or compose music.
- Treat yourself to a small indulgence or reward.
- Attend church services.
- Visit the art gallery or a performing arts event (a play or concert).
- Volunteer for a worthy cause.
- Post a “do not disturb” sign on your bathroom door and soak in a soothing bubble bath.
- Take a steam in a sauna.
On a personal note, one of my own best answers to managing my own self-care was to write. Some of what I wrote led to published newspaper and magazine articles (and became the basis for my book); some other words never ventured further than my computer’s desktop. Publication was wonderful recognition for what I could do; however, it was even more important for me to share and release the many harboured doubts and frustrations I held inside. Writing was a means to both help myself and others; it proved to be very calming and therapeutic and continues to be beneficial many years following Mom and Dad’s deaths.
Busy caregivers often overlook their own self-care; therefore, it may help you to identify your self-care goals, write them down, vocalize them with friends and/or family, and to schedule your own care breaks focusing on each of the four dimensions of caregiving self-care. However you choose to do to take care of yourself is, by no means, a selfish move.
Please watch for my further discussion and tips on caregiver self-care in the months ahead on The Caregiver Network.