Category: Caregiving, Mental Wellness
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Taking Care of Yourself while Caring for Someone Else
July 11, 2009
Whether you care for a toddler with endless energy or a homebound relative, everyone needs some “me” time. We offer tips for keeping your cool – and taking care of yourself.
In tending to the needs of others, many people often forget to take care of themselves. Here are 6 ways to make time for YOU.
Everyone Takes Care of Someone in Their Lives
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter was once quoted as saying, "There are only four kinds of people in the world - those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers." Thus far in my young 42 years I've already filled three of those roles; I'm bracing myself for what's around the corner!
Caring for a loved one is filled with emotional upheaval, and when you compound it with other stresses - rush-hour traffic, deadlines, dirty laundry - we caregivers are often left holding the bag. As a caregiver, you feel pressure to be all things to all people, and often end up as the martyr, giving yourself the short end of the stick. Since more than 50 million people serve as caregivers in the United States - you are clearly not alone.
What is Caregiving?
Caregiving is often defined as providing direct care for children, elderly people, or the chronically ill. It can be an unrewarded act that requires unconditional devotion and support. As a caregiver, you can sometimes become so involved in the day-to-day efforts of caring for a loved one, you forget you need to care for yourself. Caregiving can be demanding, whether you take care of a disabled child, a spouse with Parkinson's or a parent with Alzheimer's. Each of us responds to stressful situations in different ways.
Unfortunately, it's possible to start down a destructive path by not properly taking care of yourself. Rather than openly expressing feelings and seeking help, many people overeat or use alcohol as coping mechanisms. Some of us even become impatient and agitated or completely lose our sense of purpose and self.
How to Reduce Caregiving Stress
You must incorporate certain behaviors into your daily life to foster your own wellness and care. Taking care of yourself benefits you and your loved ones. Taking the time to meet your personal needs is satisfying and gives you additional strength and vigor in your ongoing role as a caregiver.
Here are 6 ways to help you take care of yourself as you care for your loved ones:
- Keep a sense of humor - Make a date with a friend or your spouse to see a favorite comedian or rent a funny movie. Look for humor in everyday situations. Laughing is one of the most effective coping mechanisms and can be one of your greatest allies against burnout.
- Take time for yourself - Take the time to eat right, get adequate rest, and keep up with your own appointments. Sacrificing your personal schedule for others leads to overbooking and frustration. Taking time also means tending to your emotional needs, taking breaks, and nurturing the other relationships in your life.
- Be grateful for the time you have together - Many successful caregivers have made it through difficult days by reminding themselves that life is precious and caring for a loved one is a gift. If you care for a loved one, consider that time of "giving" as something you'll treasure for the rest of your life.
- Go with the flow - One of the most important qualities of an effective caregiver is flexibility. Being flexible means being able to roll with the punches and understanding you won't always be able to do the things you plan and want to do at the precise times you plan or want to do them.
- Maintain friendships - Many caregivers put friendships on the back burner while focusing on the more immediate demands of those they are caring for at the moment. This is the time in your life when you must say YES when a friend asks if you need to talk or a shoulder to cry on... there's no doubt you'll be there for them when they need support.
- Attend a support group - If you feel overwhelmed with the seemingly never-ending responsibilities of caregiving, you can take some comfort in the fact that you're not alone. There are many other people in the same situation who likely share your fears, frustrations, and utter exhaustion. By attending a support group, you can meet many others caregivers in similar situations and learn from and lean on one another.
About the Author
Alexis Abramson, Ph.D.
Dr. Abramson's expertise on boomers and mature adults has been featured in many national publications including TIME, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and People magazines. She has written two highly acclaimed books – The Caregivers Survival Handbook, a guide to help caregivers balance the responsibilities of caring for others and for themselves, and Home Safety for Seniors, a room-by-room reference and idea-book for making independent senior, and home-bound, living easier. She earned a master's and a doctorate in gerontology from the University of Southern California.