Advice: Self-Care Advice from a Caregiver

 

Caregivers are experts of their own and often, they seek to help others going through a similar experience. They have walked the complicated path of caregiving and want to share what they've learned with others. We are happy to feature this post from Harry Cline. We hope you enjoy and find his words helpful!

About the Author: Harry Cline is the creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, "The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers". As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.

Caregivers Need to Keep Their Own Self-Care in Mind

A family caregiver’s job is stressful. It may be rewarding to know that you are helping a family member, and you may enjoy the idea of spending time with a loved one and may be proud of stepping up and taking care of someone in need, but beyond these feelings, the rewards of caregiving can be few. 

Caregivers also often neglect their own needs. Since they are giving care to another, they become used to the idea of providing care without ever seeking it for themselves. As a result, caregivers increase their risk of burnout. Burnout negatively affects a caregiver’s physical and emotional health, and ultimately, hurts the person requiring care.

There are several methods for managing caregiver burnout, but they all relate to the general idea of self-care. However, before exploring different types of self-care routines, caregivers must learn how to identify stress and separate it from the normal stress of their dynamic with the person needing care.

Identifying signs of caregiver burnout

Burnout manifests itself as stress that generally follows feelings of frustration that lead to despair and isolation. Symptoms of caregiver stress include:

Feeling agitated
Feeling hopeless
Thinking about death and suicide
Losing sleep
Experiencing difficulty in concentrating
Avoiding friends and social situations
Feelings of guilt

If these symptoms are present, it’s important to reach out to a doctor or other support resource. Ask for help. Often, pride and a sense of family duty can make a caregiver hesitate use backup support. Professional caregivers, such as assisted living nurses and other providers have demanding jobs but are able to walk away and enjoy personal time. Help is available, and one way to avoid the bleakness of providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s or a terminal illness is to talk with others who are doing the same. 

Beyond getting help from professionals and support groups, remember to first care for yourself

Self-care tips for caregivers

Self-care incorporates all the several ways someone can provide comfort in their life. It can mean getting a massage at a spa, taking a bubble bath at home or just going for a calm walk each morning. When we attend to our needs, we become better caregivers. Here are some self-care ideas:

Add exercise to your routine: Even a small amount of walking or a few days a week working out can help you reconnect with your body. Exercise also is a social outlet and can provide a necessary temporary removal from the caregiver situation. 

Get enough rest: A caregiver’s job is physically demanding. Try to get at least eight hours of restful sleep each night. Enhance your bedroom to reduce stress by using blackout curtains, making your bedroom the right temperature and blocking out the noise. Rest involves more than sleep, however. Take breaks when you feel overwhelmed.

Eat a balanced diet: Caregiver responsibilities may result in hectic schedules and missed meals, but good nutrition is key to avoid becoming overweight and emotionally insecure.

Avoid abusing drugs or alcohol: The stress of the day may lead to a glass of wine to blow off steam, which becomes problematic when it’s the only resort for relief. Self-medication through drugs or alcohol is a serious problem with caregivers. Sometimes the problem escalates to abusing painkillers to deal with physical demands of care, and once that cycle begins, the descent becomes deeper. The risk for substance abuse increases with the typical feelings that prompt burnout, such as depression and futility. 

With self-care and self-understanding, a caregiver can learn that it’s acceptable to take care of themselves first. By doing so, the person requiring care benefits from having a well-rested and positive leader of their care.