One of the first things they say on an airplane is that if the oxygen masks come down, put on your own mask first before helping others with theirs. You cannot care for someone else before you care for yourself. The quality of care that you provide for yourself is even more important when you are responsible for another person. The healthier, stronger, and more prepared you are, the better a caregiver you will be.
Simple pleasures such as walking with a friend, reading a book, or getting a massage are very important for your peace of mind. Engaging in hobbies or joining a club or committee can help you feel a sense of accomplishment and reward for the hard work that you do. Try to use mindfulness techniques such as taking a few deep breaths or sitting and listening to your favorite music, to reduce your stress and increase your resiliency to stressful moments. Use positive daily affirmations, such as, “I love what I do, and it makes a difference” to boost your spirit and create new automatic scripts in your mind.
Taking Time for Yourself
Take good care of your health. Eat properly, exercise, and have some “me time” to recharge your batteries. If you need a day for yourself, take it. This does not make you selfish; it allows you to refocus and build the endurance you need to take care of someone else. When you maintain your health, you improve the lives of those around you. You cannot help others if you do not take care of yourself.
We often feel guilty about putting ourselves first. It is extremely important to recognize that
taking care of yourself is not something to feel guilty about. Instead, you should be proud of every effort you make to promote your own health and well-being. The role of caregiver can be overwhelming, and it’s okay to acknowledge this reality as a natural part of the coping process. Feeling overwhelmed is your mind and body’s way of reminding you to take the best possible care of yourself.
Help and Limitations
We all need help at different times in our lives. People sometimes have trouble asking for or accepting help because they worry about being perceived as weak or a burden. Keep in mind that allowing someone else to help you can be a gift to them. It is human nature to want to help others. Don’t take the role of caregiver solely upon yourself if you don’t need to. Ask a trusted friend, family member, or professional caregiver to spend time with your loved one for a few hours while you do errands, groceries, or something fun. Accepting help gives others an opportunity to do something that will make them feel good, too.
It’s also important to know your limits and your boundaries. Become comfortable with saying “no” to things that are too stressful for you. Give yourself permission to say things like, “Yes, I need help” or, “No, this isn’t a good year for me to host a large family event.”
The Mind-Body Connection
Not getting enough sleep is a major cause of illness and stress in caregivers. Without adequate sleep, you might become irritable, frustrated, or resentful. We all have limitations, so try not to push your mind or your body too hard; doing so it could lead to a burnout. Rest when you need to, and aim for eight hours of sleep each night.
Mindfulness and meditation are key tools for attaining a healthy and communicative relationship between your mind and body. Exercise can also be a powerful psychological tool to quiet external stresses and force you to focus on your internal state. Exercise has the power to combat depression and prevent a host of other health problems including dementia. Nutrition is also an important key to health that should not be overlooked. Make it a priority to eat regular, nutritious meals and snacks every day.
When I talk with family caregivers, one of their primary fears is about what will happen to their loved one if something happens to them. Worrying doesn’t help. Taking excellent care of yourself does.
- Find someone, such as a friend or counselor, who can listen, give you new ideas, or simply provide a different perspective on things.
- Attend conferences and lectures about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which will help you understand what is ahead and what resources are available.
- Make time for yourself, and make sure you use it to do the things you like to do.
- Make and keep plans with friends, family, community clubs, or take a vacation.
- Join a support group where you can make connections with people who are going through the same thing as you are.
- Consider enrolling your loved one in an adult day or residential care program. Many residential care programs offer respite which is a short-term stay.
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