Caregiving can be tiring, stressful, and bewildering—all at once. It can send the caregiver on an emotional roller coaster that can lead to anxiety, depression, anger, resentment, and feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. What all caregivers need to know is—it does not have to be this way. The best thing a caregiver can do is take care of himself first. If you don’t, even the smallest mental task will seem overwhelming and the easiest physical activity can feel like you’re running a marathon.
To minimize many of the conflicting feelings that come along with caregiving, you have to take time for yourself. This may mean different things for different people. Some people may find solace in sitting in silence, while others may feel better after spending some quality time with close friends. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggests:
Finding nice things you can do for yourself – even for a few minutes
Finding nice things others can do or set up for you
Finding new ways to connect with friends
Taking larger chunks of time that are “off-duty”
While taking time for yourself may help minimize some of the mental challenges you must face, it might not be enough to control some of the physical issues associated with caregiving. Caregivers may become fatigued, they may have trouble sleeping, they may have weakened immune systems, higher blood pressure, and headaches, and physical wounds may take longer to heal. Besides staying current with yearly physicals and other medical needs, caregivers should do their best to get some form of continuous physical exercise every single day to help combat these issues. Biking, running, walking, swimming, stair climbing, and even short yoga sessions at home can help shift the focus, ease stress, and keep your body healthy through this trying time.
Caregivers should also find time to relax, eat healthy, and rest. We understand that breaking away for just a few minutes to relax may seem impossible. In your mind, it may seem selfish and it may trigger feelings of guilt. It is important to understand that taking a time out to relax isn’t impossible or selfish, and you should never feel guilty about taking care of yourself. If you are not healthy, mind, body, and spirit, how can you possibly help anyone else?
Just five minutes of meditation can leave you relaxed and refreshed. The longer you mediate the greater the benefits and the longer the effects will last. Other ways to relax include reading a book—even if it’s just a few pages, stretching, talking on the phone with a friend or someone who inspires you, and even watching your favorite program on TV. You can do many of these things with or without your loved one around.
Whether you are caring for a loved one or not, you have to eat and sleep. The body simply will not allow you to go days without eating or sleeping. So, when you do sit down to eat, make sure you are eating the healthiest foods possible. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, water, and pure juices will help keep your energy up. Fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates will drag you down, so stock your shelves with quick, healthy foods. If you’re taking care of a loved one between your home and their home or the hospital, pack as many healthy foods as you can to go. And we’re sure your loved one won’t mind if you keep their shelves stocked with healthy eats.
When it comes to rest, sometimes quality does rule over quantity. Five hours of quality sleep can actually leave you feeling more refreshed than eight hours of tossing and turning. If you’re having trouble sleeping or falling asleep, consider:
Minimizing the use of electronics a few hours before going to bed
Closing the blinds or curtains to minimize light
Listening to soft music
If you have time, a cup of chamomile tea and a hot bath may help you relax and fall asleep as well. This may also fall under that “time for yourself” we talked about earlier.
Many caregivers will find that making little changes, and truly committing to those changes, makes a big difference. However, for some, these changes may not be enough. If this sounds like you, ask your doctor about individual counseling or support groups in your area.