Caregiver, Heal Thyself
In our daily lives as senior advisors, we frequently work with adult caregivers who are frazzled and over-extended. It’s not surprising when they often are working, taking care of kids and helping their aging parents. In fact, nearly 60 percent of caregivers work outside of the home.
What sometimes gets lost in this equation is taking care of themselves. Yet, taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. This means eating healthy, being active and taking time for yourself rather than giving to others all the time.
This also includes caregivers who don’t live in the same geographic area as their parents. Long-distance caregivers feel guilty about not being closer, not doing enough, not having enough time with the person, and perhaps even feeling jealous of those who do. They may also worry because they can’t take time off from work, be away from their family or afford the cost of travel.
Following are some tips from the National Institute on Aging, the Mayo Clinic, and the Caregiver Action Network.
- Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, a friend may offer to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Or a friend or family member may be able to run an errand, pick up your groceries or cook for you.
- Focus on what you can do. It's normal to feel guilty sometimes but understand that no one is a "perfect" caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
- It’s okay to get frustrated and even angry. Find an appropriate outlet for your feelings. Try to exercise or call a fellow caregiver. At the very least, take a deep breath.
- Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation, meal delivery or housekeeping may be available.
- Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through.
- Seek social support. Try to stay well-connected with family and friends who can give you nonjudgmental emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it's just a walk with a friend.
- Set personal health goals. For example, set goals to establish a good sleep routine, find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. Many caregivers have issues with sleeping. Not getting quality sleep over a long period of time can cause health issues. If you have trouble getting a good night's sleep, talk to your doctor.