Self-Care for Caregivers

We talk a lot about caring for our loved ones, but we don’t talk enough about caring for ourselves as caregivers. 

If you are reading this, then chances are you know how…exhausting it can be caring for a loved one who has medical issues. Maybe exhausting isn’t the right word. Maybe, as a friend of mine put it, Omni-tired would be better. Any way you describe it, the emotional weight of caregiving can be titanic. So it’s important for caregivers to spend a little time every week caring for themselves, too. Some basic tips:

Routines are your friend – I know it sounds simple, almost too simple to be true. But making routines, and keeping to them as much as possible, really will help reduce stress levels. Sit down and plot out your day, your week and your month. A simple calendar program like Google Calendar or Outlook is great for this. You want as much of your day as possible to be muscle memory; you don’t have to think about it you just act. Eventually this will free up mental bandwidth for other tasks, and reduce overall stress. 

Your medical & nutritional needs are important too – A caregiver who spends a lot of time in doctors offices, imaging centers or hospitals with their loved one will all too often begin to neglect their own health. Some of that is simple exhaustion, but there are also a myriad of psychological forces which nudge caregivers away from considering their own healthcare. Schedule regular check-ups with your general practitioner, get your annual boosters and immunizations, maybe even consider seeing a therapist of psychologist. After all if you fall seriously ill or have a breakdown, that will negatively affect your loved one, too. 

Sometimes, a distraction is your best friend – When caring for an adult loved one, it’s important to refrain from treating them like children or babies. But sometimes, you just need a little ‘you’ time. It’s important to have a slate of entertainment options at hand which you can use to keep your charge occupied for short periods while you do other things. That could be a puzzle, a movie/TV show, a selection of music, even a phone call to another relative. You can’t think of these distraction activities as “bad”; they’re a necessary tool and you need to be able to use it on occasion with a clear conscience. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Another ‘suggestion’ that’s incredibly difficult for some people to accept, but it’s necessary. Find someone – another sibling, a spouse, your children, even an able-bodied neighbor – who can take up caregiving duties even for a few hours. Even if you have to hire a home aide to come in once every week or two. For your own physical, mental and emotional well-being, you need time to yourself. To care for your home, go to your medical appointments, to spend time with your friends. 

Many caregivers feel crushing guilt taking any sort of “me time”, but you have to fight that impulse. A caregiver who doesn’t devote any time to caring for themselves will soon find themselves in need of their own caregiver. 

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