A caregiver’s life is dedicated to the care of a senior or anyone who needs long-term care. It is a most important role but one that comes with great stress. If unchecked, mounting stress can take a toll on the caregiver’s health, relationships, state of mind and ability to deliver care. Consciously making the time to rest, relax, and recharge should be thought of as a necessity, not a luxury.
Caring for a loved one is perhaps one of the most difficult caregiver roles. Changes in the family dynamic, disruption of a household, financial burdens, and the prospect of providing long-term care are enormously stressful. The fact that the loved one may not get better is all the more disheartening. Stress will impact the caregiver’s ability to provide the care that is needed. Here are some ways in which caregivers can practice self-care.
Exercise can help caregivers to avoid burn out; finding time for it is another matter entirely. Rarely do caregivers have a free hour each day in which to workout. The good news is that a rigorous workout is not necessary in order to experience the positive effects of exercise. Regular, short bursts of activity can do a lot of good for energy, stress reduction and clear thinking. Take a walk around the block, have a stretch, take the stairs and park at the far end of every parking lot. Cumulatively, these strategies will result in a great workout throughout the day.
Focus and organize. Caregiving is not one job, but multiple tasks and responsibilities all rolled up into one. Writing a “laundry list” of tasks that need to be completed over the course of the day is a great organizational tool. Caregivers can cross off the tasks as they are completed, providing a sense of accomplishment while ensuring that important items are not forgotten.
Take a break! It is strongly advised that caregivers simply remove themselves from a situation, whether it is good or bad, to get a mental break. Caregivers should take a few minutes to close their eyes and breathe deeply. Breath work is calming and its benefits last much longer than the exercise itself. Another idea is to find at least a half hour each day to dedicate to “alone time” – buy an ice cream, read a few pages of a book, take a walk in the park, or knit for 20 minutes, whatever creates calm.
If a caregiver needs a caregiver, s/he is no longer of much help to the patient or client. It is easy to become discouraged when a patient’s health begins deteriorating, or multiple chronic diseases or dementia makes him or her increasingly difficult to work with. When caregivers begin to feel stressed, that is the time to act. Stress doesn’t go away and it doesn’t resolve itself. Taking action and using some of the strategies listed here will help the caregiver take care of the caregiver.