How often as a family caregiver have you heard statements like, “Be sure to take care of yourself.” or “Don’t let yourself get too stressed." You may have heard such statements from friends, distant relatives, your physician, clergy, etc. But, how often do you hear them ask, “How are you doing?” or “What do you need?” Chances are you hear "How is your [mom, dad, sister, brother, etc.] doing?" more often than the former. Why? Because, unfortunately, many people don’t understand the hardships that a caregiver endures when caring for a relative and how you too need to be checked up on. So, how can you as the family caregiver take better care of yourself, especially when you can't control what questions other people ask you?
1). Be Bold and a little Self-serving - what I mean by this is you should not be bashful in letting others know how stressed you may be and what you need help with. This is not to be confused with venting without giving the person a chance to offer some help. Being able to vent is definitely helpful but it should be followed up with an expression of need. For example, "Ugghh, I've been having such a hard time managing mom's meds. I just wish I knew of some way I can make it easier on me and her." Such a statement opens the possibility of the other person giving a helpful response or feeling like they could potentially help you by looking into ways to make medication management easier on you.
2). Know What You Need - while this should technically be the first step, I list it second because sometimes knowing what you need won't lead to being bold but being bold can often get you to identify what you need help with. So, make a list of all the caregiving related tasks you have for your loved one. Tasks like taking him/her to doctor appointments, doing laundry, picking up medications, preparing meals, etc., are examples of tasks that potentially can be handled by someone else. Making a list of such tasks can help pave the way for you to delegate them to others.
3). Do Something for Yourself: Yes, I'm sure you have heard this from many other people and think to yourself, "Yeah right! As if that is going to happen." My response to you is, "It needs to happen." Caring for yourself is just as important as caring for your loved one. Without a chance to recharge your energy and your spirit, you will just be an empty shell. Doing something for yourself does not have to be anything elaborate or take much time. Perhaps it is attending a church service, going for a walk around the block, treating yourself to takeout, watching your favorite show or listening to some music. The point is, if it is something you find enjoyable, try to do it for 15 minutes. If you have enough time to allocate an hour, even better. Just do it!
Incorporating the above recommendations to take better care for yourself will more than likely not happen overnight, but with practice and serious effort, it can turn into something that can become part of your routine. Do you have recommendations on what caregivers can do to better care for themselves? If so, please share them below for other subscribers to read.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.