Being a caregiver is an important role, but it can be challenging. An increasing number of adults are becoming caregivers for an adult dependent, such as an aging parent or a spouse with chronic illness. Whether you are new to caregiving or have been taking care of a loved one for some time, it’s important to take care of yourself. Without recharging yourself, you can be at risk for compassion fatigue in which your mental, physical, and emotional capacity becomes stressed from overexertion.
Caring for a loved one can be a joyful experience, but it’s important to know when a break is needed. Taking time for respite and self-care can do wonders not only for your well-being but also for your relationship with your loved one. In caring for yourself, it’s also important to share your struggle with others and build a strong support system. Here are five self-care practices for a caregiver:
Take a break: One of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself as a caregiver is a break from your duties. Whether it's for a trip to the hairdresser for an hour or a trip to visit relatives for a day or more, arrange for a trusted friend, relative, or certified nursing assistant to provide in-home care while you’re away. Stepping away from your duties can provide the recharge and respite needed to continue caring for your loved one.
Find caregiver support: If you don't get the support you need, you'll quickly burn out and compromise your ability to provide care. Some places you can turn for caregiver support include your church, temple, or other place of worship; caregiver support groups at a local hospital or online; a therapist, social worker, or counselor; national caregiver organizations; or organizations specific to your family member's illness or disability (such as the Alzheimer's Association). Reach out to caregiver services in your local community. Call your local senior center, county information and referral service, family services, or hospital social work unit for contact suggestions. For help with caring for older family members, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
Take care of your emotional needs: Make time to relax daily and find ways to de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed. Talk with someone to make sense of your caregiving role and your feelings about it. There's no better way of relieving stress than spending time with someone who cares about you. Some people find it helpful to write down their thoughts and feelings to help them see things more clearly. Keeping a journal can be a good way of processing your feelings.
Feed your spirit: Try to find meaning in your life and your role as a caregiver. You can pray, meditate, or do another activity that makes you feel part of something greater. Make it a priority to regularly visit with other people and nurture your close relationships. Don't let yourself become isolated. Do things you enjoy and don't give up activities that are important to you, such as your work or hobbies. Laughter and joy can help you keep going when you face the trials, stress, and pain of caregiving.
Get help: Watch out for signs of depression, anxiety, or burnout. Seek professional help if needed.
Remember that self-care is not selfish but rather an essential component of maintaining your well-being. If you are a caregiver, take time for yourself, engage in activities you enjoy, and reach out for support.
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