Caring for Caregivers: How to Prioritize your Self-Care as a Caregiver
Caregiving can be stressful. You take responsibility for another person and have less time for yourself. According to the Mayo Clinic, caregiving can lead to a host of stress-related health issues, such as sleep loss, headaches, alcohol abuse, and more. This is why caring for caregivers (that’s you!) is important.
The first step to getting some well-needed self-care is to acknowledge your role. Most people don’t identify themselves as caregivers –– and if you’re unaware you’re a caregiver, you can’t ask for help. If that sounds like you, here are 7 signs you have officially become your loved one’s caregiver.
Since you’re reading this article, you probably have an inkling that you need some help. So consider these tips.
How to manage your stress as a caregiver
You already know family caregiving can lead to stress, but did you know it can also cause chronic illness? According to caregiver.org, caregivers are more likely to have high blood pressure or cholesterol than non-caregivers.
Let’s face it, coping with caregiver strain can be tough. But there are some proven ways you can make your life easier:
- Go easy on yourself. Caregivers often feel guilty about taking time for themselves, but you deserve just as much compassion and kindness as your care recipient. Caregiving is hard work. You’re making personal sacrifices for the good of another person, so give yourself some credit. What’s more, how can you provide the best care for others if you don’t care for yourself? Even just a few minutes of quiet to let yourself breathe can improve your focus and reduce stress, which will ultimately help you better care for your loved one.
- Get in touch with your inner yogi. Mind-body practices can be a life saver for family caregivers. Yoga, meditation, tai chi, and deep breathing offer a mental break from your caregiving duties. In fact, one study found that yoga and meditation can significantly reduce anxiety and depression in caregivers. If you’re looking to learn these practices, there are resources available online and likely in your local community. Apps like Headspace or Calm can help you start a meditation practice, and yoga and tai chi classes are offered at many fitness centers around the country.
- Understand your personal stress response. What makes you stressed? Is it lack of sleep, arguments with family members, or taking on too many tasks? Identify your stress triggers and be aware of the physical signs of caregiver burnout. Dark circles under your eyes, forgetfulness, or constant irritability can be warning signs. When you notice them, realize that it’s probably time to slow down and give yourself a break.
This list is not exhaustive. There are many other ways to manage your stress, like getting more sleep, eating well, and exercise. For more ideas, check out caregiver.com’s twenty ways to care for caregivers.
Communication tips for honest, smooth relationships with your patient and physician
Clear, direct communication helps your care recipient, your physician, and even you. It resolves problems faster and avoids unnecessary, emotional arguments that can arise in caregiver-patient relationships. Whether you’re talking with your physician or patient, here are few ways to build smooth, effective relationships:
- Speak in “I” messages. When discussing problems, avoid the word “you” as much as possible. Instead of saying, “Why didn’t you call me on time like you said you would,” say “I feel upset because I didn’t hear from you at our agreed upon time.” The former message can sound like blaming, while the latter takes ownership of your feelings and clearly communicates the problem.
- Speak clearly, directly, and be specific. Don’t beat around the bush. If you want your patient or physician to do something, ask. Be specific and tell them exactly what outcome you’d like. This type of honest and straightforward communication saves you time and shows respect for your listener. And speaking of which...
- Respect your listener. Caregiving can be emotionally taxing for everyone involved: caregiver, older adult patient, and even the physician. If your patient or doctor did something that hurt your feelings or doesn’t make sense to you, ask yourself, “Were their actions done purposefully to hurt or confuse me?” The likely answer is “no.” So do your best not to blame them or say something hurtful. Use the tips above to express your emotions and ask clearly for what you want.
How to ask for help (the right and wrong way)
Friends or other informal caregivers can provide you some much needed relief when caring for your elderly parent. Still, many caregivers feel insecure asking for help because they don’t want to appear weak or burden others.
On the contrary, being vulnerable is a sign of bravery. You show you’re just as human as the rest of us and can’t do it all on your own. So how do you get respite care when you need it?
- Plan your asks. Before asking, take 15 minutes to write down specific tasks you’d like off your plate. For example, you could ask a friend to pick up groceries, drop off mail at the post office, or help prep meals for the week.
- Timing is everything. Avoid asking for support from people who’ve had a bad day or are feeling stressed. Instead wait till they’re in a calm, positive mood and you’ll be much more likely to get a “yes.”
Caregiver support groups and the importance of fun
No matter how many caregiving responsibilities you take on, it’s important to keep some social interaction in your life to improve your mental health and ultimately help you provide better care.
Don’t isolate yourself. You likely have friends who would love to spend some time with you, and doing so can give you a mood boost, some laughter, and a break from the sometimes exhausting caregiving routine.
Also, realize there are others going through similar experiences to you. There are a number of nationwide organizations that provide local and online support for caregivers. In these groups, you can learn from the experience of other caregivers, get emotional support, and even build meaningful friendships.
Caring for caregivers isn’t just a people problem. Technology can help too.
With smart devices becoming more common in homes, most people know technology is changing the world.
What you may not realize is that it’s also changing health care. From GPS trackers that can tell caregivers the exact location of their loved one to applications that track health records and appointments, technology is making life easier than ever for caregivers.
One confusing and frustrating problem many patients and caregivers face is tracking medication. In fact, our founder Kal Vepuri invented Hero for just this reason. His mother had a medical condition, which forced her to take a complex regimen of medication. For many seniors, this routine can be a bewildering experience that causes them to miss or mix up doses, and Hero can help.
Our pill dispenser can help caregivers in many ways. Not only does it gently remind your patient when to take their medication, but its automatic sorting and dispensing mechanism can reduce the risk of accidental overdose, save you time, and give you peace of mind, freeing you from the stress of constantly thinking about medication throughout the day. What’s more, your Hero membership comes with a convenient app that keeps a record of taken and missed doses and reminds you when you’re running low on specific medications.
You are important. You deserve care too.
Now that you’ve read this article, you hopefully understand just how important self-care is to your health and to your care recipient.
Get help if you need it, whether from friends or technology like Hero. Whatever you do, know that you’re not alone. Take time for yourself, tell people what you need, and you may just find yourself smiling a little bit more often.
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The contents of the above article are for informational and educational purposes only. The article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified clinician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or its treatment and do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of information published by us.