Taking care of the needs of a senior loved one is stressful, and many of us learn the hard way that life needs to be balanced to be healthy and happy. The good news is that a lot of other people are in the same boat, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. It’s vital that you don’t neglect your own health, or you won’t be able to perform well as a caregiver. You can reach the breaking point if you aren’t careful.
You’re not alone
Americans are living longer, and as a result, more of us are providing supportive care to elderly family and friends than ever before. Mayo Clinic notes that 80 percent of long-term caregiving is performed by informal caregivers. If you are providing care to an elderly loved one, you are at risk for caregiver stress. No matter how much you love someone, tending to their needs and watching them decline is a heavy burden. Many times, the caregiver’s own health suffers, reducing the ability to function in many ways. Watch for these signs that you could be overdoing it:
● Moodiness, irritability or angering easily
● Significant changes in weight
● Changes in sleep habits
● Feeling exhausted
● Feeling overwhelmed or anxious
● Feeling sad or depressed
● Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
● Frequent headaches, pain or illness
● Substance abuse; drinking too much or abusing drugs, including prescriptions
It’s critical to learn to take care of your own needs and embrace self-care. Caregiving is demanding. Without a self-care plan, your mental and physical health can decline. Make your burden lighter and recognize you are doing it for both yourself and your loved one.
● Reach out. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Ask family members and friends to give you a break. Think of some options and let your helper pick something to tackle, like taking your senior on an errand or for a walk, or preparing a meal once a week.
● Stay connected. Engage in a support group. Set aside time to spend with friends, and don’t become isolated.
● Be realistic. Make lists and prioritize. Do what you can when you can.
● Take care of your health. See your personal physician, and don’t put off your routine exams. Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise.
You’re probably thinking to yourself that you are already maxed out; how can you squeeze in time for doctor visits, much less exercising? The AARP offers some great advice on organizing your schedule and realizing these goals.
● Schedule it. Make arrangements for respite, whether from an agency or family members.
● Organize and communicate. Review schedules and commitments ahead of time with those sharing the caregiving burden. Make sure there are no gaps in coverage, and that things like appointments are coordinated.
● Divide duties. List responsibilities and delegate who will do what. Make sure everyone understands who handles insurance issues, who orders prescriptions, and so on. This eliminates concerns of schedule gaps and of duplicating efforts.
Exercising is vital to your self-care routine. According to the professionals at the Mental Health Foundation, we need to keep moving. Activity is good for your bones, muscles and flexibility, and will also improve your mental health and well-being. You can be active through household chores, running errands or organized exercise. It doesn’t take long. According to the American Psychological Association, “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”
A home gym
A small home gym is a practical addition to a caregiver’s lifestyle. It’s inexpensive, you only need a little elbow room, and you can squeeze in a workout when it’s convenient. A handful of well-chosen pieces of equipment, like a yoga mat, dumbbells and resistance bands, will put you well on your way to fitness with minimal space, time and money.
Meet your own needs
Without tending to your own needs, your mental and physical health will suffer, and you can’t be as effective in your role. Develop a self-care plan, get organized, manage your time well and make exercise convenient. By taking these steps, your life will be more balanced, healthier, and you’ll be a better caregiver.
Author: June Duncan