Taking Care of Yourself
“More people enter nursing homes because of caregiver burnout, rather than because of a worsening of their conditions.” – University of Chicago statistics.
It is said that to live a balanced healthy life, one needs to keep a balance between one’s physical health, emotional health and spiritual health. If one of those three areas is out of balance, it will affect the other two.
Caregiver burnout is common among most caregivers at some point in their caregiving experience. Many times the caregivers don’t even recognize the stress and emotions they have been under and that they are headed for burnout. One way to divert burnout is for the caregiver to take care of themselves.
Physical health is a significant concern for the caregiver.
- Are you eating a well-balanced diet? A proper diet can help establish a cycle of good health, maintain your energy and ward off illness.
- Are you getting some physical exercise? Regular exercise can strengthen you for the rigors of caregiving. Exercise is also known to be a great stress buster.
- Are you getting enough rest every night? A restful sleep period is imperative to your health. You can not function properly and on a continual basis if you lack a good night’s sleep.
- Are you getting prompt and appropriate treatment for your own physical illness? Regular visits to the doctor or health clinic are important for you.
Remember, when you are ill or out of commission, the person you care for is also affected.
Emotional and Mental Health
Many times our emotional health is overlooked. By doing so you place yourself and the one you care for at great risk. Almost every caregiver needs to talk about the emotions that are stirred up by the job of caregiving.
Emotions can be conflicting and confusing. There are no “good” emotions and no “bad” emotions. Emotions are there, accept them and put your efforts into dealing with them in a healthy manner.
It may help to have a friend or family member to talk with on a regular basis. Remember to include conversations on topics other than the illness or caregiver concerns. Social workers, clergy or counselors may also be able to help you talk about your situation and feelings. Talking with others in support groups can also be helpful.
Let family and friends help. Provide them with written materials so they can better understand your situation. Give them a chance.
There are many coping techniques, just pick something that works for you. Exercise, chopping wood, cleaning, cooking, working on a hobby, listening to music, reading, meditation or getting a massage are ways others have found to deal with their frustrations. Learn relaxation techniques and practice them daily.
Know your limitations; you can’t give more than you have.
Quote: “I thought I was pretty tough, but caregiving sort of knocks the props out from under you.”
Give yourself permission to have a good cry. Tears aren’t a weakness; they reduce tension.
Don’t get caught with developing “tunnel vision.” Educate yourself on your circumstances and on your care receiver’s condition. Keep your mind open to other ways of dealing with situations and doing things. Many times the way we used to do it no longer works. Instead of trying to force the old way, revamp and develop a new way of doing the project. Step back, and try to be objective. Contact others who can help you think about situations clearly and ask for suggestions.
Remember your goal of caregiving – to provide comfort, safety and dignity for the care receiver.
Smile! Your loved one’s attitude and emotions imitate your own. Laughter is an important habit to cultivate. It reduces stress, tension and frustrations. Look at the bright side or see the humor in the situation and laugh at it. Smiles and laughter are contagious; share them with your care receiver!
Spiritual health goes by many names. But it refers to the peace and inner strength we all carry within us. Each day, take some quiet time where you collect your thoughts and renew your inner-self. Many of the things we do for physical and emotional health also is utilized for our spiritual health. Relaxation exercises, listening to music or meditation works for some people. Others find walking in a park or sitting in their yard watching wildlife to be soothing. Perhaps reading inspirational quotes or religious readings is reassuring to you. Whatever technique is best for you, remember that you are seeking to be at peace with yourself!
Affection is necessary for human survival. Just as the person you care for needs it, so do you.
Everyone differs in how and when they show affection. Since some care receivers may have difficulty expressing affection, you must find the desired care and support you need elsewhere. This support can come from friends, family, counselor or clergy. A support group or neighbor can often meet this basic need. By taking care of yourself, you will be better prepared to care for others.
Taking care of yourself is a gift you can give to yourself and your loved one.
“There are only four kinds of people in the world:
Those who have been caregivers
Those who are currently caregivers
Those who will be caregivers
Those who will need caregivers”
--Rosalynn Carter, Helping Yourself Help Others