A caregiver has many important responsibilities during the course of a day. The role can be overwhelming between the physical things you have to do, the patient advocacy, and the stress of all of it. You however, could make the point that really your most important overall responsibility is taking care of yourself. That may sound counter intuitive however a caregiver must stay in tip top shape to successfully accomplish all the roles in a day, or a week or a lifetime. For these reasons ignoring your own mental and physical needs isn’t an option, because it leaves you unable to provide the level of care a loved one needs. And there should be no guilt associated with these beliefs or feelings, though there often is.
Statistics bear out the veracity of this claim: According to the the Caregiver Action Network, as much as 70 percent of caregivers exhibit signs of clinical depression, with many of them taking prescription medication for anxiety. Clearly, you can’t be an effective caregiver unless you take good care of yourself first.
Embrace your needs
As a caregiver, you have a powerful sense of responsibility to your loved one. And that is super admirable. Even though you know it’s time for a break, it may still be hard to walk away and turn it over to someone else, even for just a little while. Under the circumstances, you can’t afford to feel guilty about taking care of yourself. Your survivor depends on your ability to provide care, so it’s important to recognize your need for self-care. Otherwise, you could become one of the many caregivers who suffer from clinical depression, and your care subject will suffer right along with you. Self-care is not synonymous with selfishness; however, ignoring your mental and physical health needs could certainly be described as irresponsible under the circumstances.
Ask for help
Family members have the same investment in your survivor’s care and well-being that you do, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Recognize that you have the same needs as everyone else and deserve help so you can have some time alone, so you don’t have to cancel doctor or dental appointments, so you can do your grocery shopping, and so you have enough time to get the sleep you need, and to have some level of life of your own. Certainly, you should have time to do things that give you joy.
Other family members should recognize these needs and be willing to step in as much as possible. But they may need education as to the importance of fulfilling the caregiver’s own needs. Show them this article that experts in the care-giving field have written, NOT YOU. Stand up for your needs and be clear and direct when you just HAVE to get away. It doesn’t have to be for something “official;” you, too, have the right to go out for a coffee, enjoy a movie, or just hang out with friends.
Caring for a loved one around the clock takes a heavy toll on your body. It’s a demanding job that will wear you down if you’re not getting enough sleep, not eating healthy food, not getting exercise, and not getting enough fresh air. These are essentials that no one can do without and still remain functional.
You would hope that the last thing your family would want is for you to sacrifice your health, so make a point of getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night, eating a balanced diet (minimize processed and fast foods, and focus on whole food options), and finding time to get exercise every day (sometimes, a walk around the neighborhood or a few minutes working in the garden can be a blessing).
When you just can’t
Sometimes, your responsibilities become overwhelming and other things begin to slip. For example, after 8 to 10 hours or more of caring for a loved one, the last thing you have the energy for is cleaning your house, yet it needs doing at some point. This is a good job to farm out to a house cleaning service, so hop online and research companies in your area. Remember, cleanliness and decluttering are also important self-care actions.
Care-giving is a heavy responsibility, and lots of people suffer burnout, depression and anxiety as a result. Be careful not to fall into the trap of believing you’re the only one who can provide care for your loved one. You need help sometimes too, so don’t be afraid to ask for it. After all the good and difficult work – that would be your biggest mistake!