We all know it’s not easy to be a caregiver. Taking care of someone else is very rewarding and often necessary, but it can also be very costly. Caregivers are more likely to have a chronic illness such as high cholesterol and blood pressure. Caregivers are more likely to abuse alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Studies have estimated about half of all caregivers to be clinically depressed. Additionally, caregivers have a rate of death about 1.5 times higher than non-caregivers.
If you are a caregiver, this may not even surprise you—caregivers know all too well the demands and consequences of this selfless service. We highlight them here only to emphasize the importance of self-care—or caring for the caregiver. While you may not be able to remove a strong illness from a loved one, it is within your capacity to take care of your own needs which will allow you to continue providing the best possible care.
First of all, carve out some time to take stock of the situation and your state within it. Think honestly about what is stressing you out, exactly, and why. Identify the things that are within your control and those that aren’t. Accept your feelings as they come and without guilt. Think of things in as positive of a light as you can and your feelings will follow. Set some goals for yourself as far as de-stressing and healthier life choices go.
Your mindset, feelings and overall well-being can also be affected by your physical health—and maybe more than you think. Exercise, for instance, leads to better sleep, reduced depression and increased energy. Our diet affects our whole self as well. So, while it may seem impossible to eat healthier or find time for exercise while caregiving, even a little bit can go a long way. If you are meeting with a doctor with your care-recepient, talk to the doctor about your own health and concerns.
Just as the person you are caring for relies on you for support, you too need someone to lean on. Perhaps this is just a friendly ear to listen, or it could be hands to help with daily chores. Think of people that could help and then find a good time to ask. Let your helper choose a way to help you, such as errands, relieving you of some care-giving duties, etc. but remember not to push too hard. Some people, even those very close to you, may be unable or unwilling to help. Don’t let this come between your relationship, simply ask someone else. Help comes from the most unlikely of places so don’t be afraid to ask those who weren’t the first ones you thought of.
Finally, don’t be ashamed to take advantage of respite care. Respite care is a benefit offered by Bridgeway Hospice and other hospice organizations to hospice patients in order to relieve the caregiver for up to a week at a time. Eventually, you will need this time, whether from a hospice or someone else, to allow yourself time to rest and recharge. Just as you can’t pour from an empty vessel, you can’t care for others when you haven’t cared for yourself.