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Caregiving takes a toll, remember to take care of yourself

Nov 11 2015
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When we care for a family member, our energy, unfortunately, turns to loss. Our family member who now needs our help and care loses their independence, their abilities, their friends, their good health.  We do our best to compensate for what they lose. With so much of our thoughts and actions about their loss, we can overlook our own losses — we lose friends, career opportunities, time to socialize, a chance to do what we once loved doing. And, before we know it, we can feel lost to caregiving.

We may not get lost over night. Over time we begin doing more and more for our “carees,” the person for whom we care , and less and less for ourselves.

We can feel the need to be on call 24/7 because we can’t predict when our carees’ next health crisis will happen. And, during the crisis, our focus is solely on getting our carees better.  We put socialization and fun on hold in the face of the immediate. But once the crisis ends,  we can feel like we’ve  lost more of our hold on what was once fun and light in our lives.

We can only be our best when we have relationships and activities in our life which bring us joy and remind us that we have a life to live too.

We’re caring so much for another that we lose our own self-care. You know when your self-care is taking too much of a back seat by how you feel. You drag through your day, feel hopeless and adrift, lose your temper over insignificant situations, and notice tears seem always seem ready to fall. In essence, exhaustion has settled in your mind, heart and spirit.

First, an apple a day

I look at self-care like an apple a day. Each day, take an “apple” for yourself –enjoy something that’s just for and about you. Perhaps you spend five minutes reading motivational quotes or an hour listening to your favorite music. You might journal or blog. Maybe you take a walk or reach out to a friend. (Are you so overwhelmed by this suggestion that even small actions seem impossible? Check out ideas for a few hours of respite.)  Remember, it’s okay to take a pass on caregiving drudgery once in a while.

You need a plan

On Caregiving.com, I post a weekly self-care plan for family caregivers. We post it every Thursday, so family members are ready each Sunday to implement their plans. It’s important to actually schedule time for yourself in your week. Take a break from caregiving duties –even if just for a few moments–on Sundays (or pick another day if that works better).

Each care plan I post includes a new intention to build on what you do to be well. In our care plan, I define being “well” this way:

Wisdom comes from being attentive, grateful and curious. Stocksy_txp1803d305NOW000_Small_624235

Energy comes from your food, your exercise, your support system and your breaks.

Laughter comes from within, from your relationships and from your entertainment.

Love comes from within, from your relationships and from your passions.

A plan prompts you to schedule simple things that keep you connected to who and what you love. In addition, you can keep track of what and who can help you in case you need help. The act of defining who or what can help you really helps. You can also add thoughts in your care plan about forgiving yourself, family members, friends, your caree, the disease process and whatever else causes you pain and sorrow. Forgiveness is a process and it doesn’t always work in a straight line. If you want to learn more about Caregiving.com plans, you can find them here.

Don’t fall into the guilt trap

You may feel guilty for enjoying life when your caree can’t. You may feel guilty for not doing everything because you think you should do everything. You may feel guilty because no matter what you do, your caree’s health still declines. Remember this: so much during caregiving is out of our control. During caregiving, we learn what we can and can’t control. And, through that lesson, we understand that we are doing enough and our best is enough.

Every year, respondents in our annual survey say that managing the difficult emotions (guilt, anger, grief) is the hardest part of caregiving. Managing these emotions takes energy. I encourage family caregivers to kick guilt to the curb. We re-energize when take a break from caregiving.

The true challenge of managing a caregiving experience is getting through it without creating moments you regret after it ends.

The true challenge of managing a caregiving experience is getting through it without creating moments you regret after it ends. We can mistakenly believe we won’t have regrets if we are ever-present during caregiving.

The reality is that we won’t have regrets when we are at our best. We can only be at our best when we rest our body, mind and soul as often as we can. We can only be our best when we have relationships and activities in our life which bring us joy and remind us that we have a life to live too.

Tech and Health AHA Nancy Brown