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To Take Care of Others We Must First Take Care Of Ourselves

Posted on: 2012 11 19

Caregivers are to be celebrated and honored for the commitments they make to their loved ones. I encourage caregivers to also remember that not only is it okay and unselfish to take time to care for yourself, it is essential for your health and wellbeing, as well as for the health and wellbeing of the persons for whom you care. Here is my list of tips to help caregivers through an often-challenging journey.  

  1. Sleep. It is recommended that we all get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. This can be so difficult to do, but it is vital to your health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep is the underlying cause of many problems that fit within the “caregiver syndrome” heading. These problems can be avoided by making time to get a full night’s rest. Make sleep a priority and use other strategies on this list to help make time for sleep.
  2. Manage stress. Along with lack of sleep, stress is the underlying cause of the problems that fit within the “caregiver syndrome” heading. Be aware of the need to reduce stress and use the strategies on this list to aid in stress relief.
  3. Ask for help. There is nothing wrong in asking neighbors, friends, and other family members to help out a couple of times a week. Your loved one might even enjoy the company.  When people offer help, ACCEPT IT.
  4. Be specific about the kind of help you need. It is often difficult for family and friends to know when to step in. When help has been offered, your job is to tell them exactly what you need and when.
  5. Breathe. Being mindful and taking time to breathe deeply can help reduce stress and anxiety.  The best part about breathing is that it is free and you can do it anywhere at anytime.
  6. Your feelings are okay. Being a caregiver can create many complex emotions, including resentment, guilt, anger, fear, grief and helplessness.  As long as you don’t compromise the health and wellbeing of your loved one, allow yourself to feel what you feel.
  7. Enroll in caregiver support group. There are face-to-face or online support groups available.  Online support groups can give you the needed support when you feel like pulling your hair out, without needing to leave the house.
  8. Confide in family and friends. If an online or in-person support group is not possible, call a family member or friend. It is important to give voice to your stress and anxiety and not keep these feelings bottled up.
  9. Take advantage of available benefits. If you or your care recipient is a Veteran, funds for home health care coverage, respite, nursing home care, and adult day care benefits may be available. Call your nearest Veterans Administration and a case manager will help you navigate the many benefits available to your loved one. There are also non-veteran funds available from local agencies. CVAA and the Parkinson’s Association both have respite grants available.
  10. Use a telephone check-in service. These services provide reassurance with pre-scheduled calls to your loved one. This might help reduce isolation and monitor their wellbeing. It can be especially beneficial if you are unable to leave work on certain days and your loved ones need certain reminders. Telephone check-ins will immediately notify you if your loved one is not answering the phone after several tries.
  11. Educate yourself on your family member’s diagnosis. The more you know, the more effective you’ll be, and the better you’ll feel about your efforts. There is plenty of information available online, and there are free seminars available in your community. National organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association can also be an invaluable resource.
  12. Use a home care agency to supplement the care you provide to your loved one. This will free you up to pay attention to your needs. Some agencies provide a variety of care options, from one-hour visits to ‘round the clock care.
  13. Get organized to save time. Keep a file folder for all doctor’s notes, visits, bills, bank account, etc.  A blank scheduling book can also help you plan errands in advance, such as grocery shopping, medication pick up, and doctor appointments. Don’t forget to keep copies of all paperwork.
  14. Understand your rights. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, many employers are responsible for providing 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for your loved one. Since most caregivers cannot afford to leave work without pay for a long period of time, try to negotiate with your employer about a possible schedule change or increased flexibility.
  15. Have plants in your house. Recent studies have shown that plants release chemicals that can reduce stress and improve immune system function.
  16. Keep your routines. Don’t give up on your social engagements, outings, or exercise classes.  It is important that you maintain your own life and activities so you do not burn out.
  17. Do something nice for yourself each and every day. It’s okay to take a long shower or bath.  Remember that whenever you give a gift to yourself, (time, a good movie, a good book, spending an hour with your friends, going for a short walk, working in the garden, etc.) you are giving a gift to your loved one.  He or she depends on your good health and happy presence.

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