As medical advances unfold and lifespans increase, more and more people are taking on the role of “caregiver” for a family member .
People take on the role for different reasons. Perhaps someone they love has had a sudden health crisis or maybe the aging process or a medical condition has made it impossible for their spouse or parent to manage alone.
Becoming the primary caregiver for someone you love can be a very rewarding experience. You are giving of yourself in a way that shows the depth of your love and commitment to someone else and you experience a return of love from the person in your care. But, it can also be extremely draining and challenging.
Most people who have taken on the role of caregiver will tell you that the role provides both positive and negative moments and a rollercoaster ride of emotions and feelings. Undoubtedly, both you and the person in your care will have good days and bad.
The demands of caregiving can easily become overwhelming, both physically and emotionally. It is quite common and completely normal to have feelings of frustration, disappointment, sadness, aggravation, isolation, guilt, regret, exhaustion, and anger.
As a caregiver, one of the most effective ways to combat these negative feelings is to make sure to take care of your own needs in addition to caring for the needs of your loved one. It is not selfish to make sure you are doing okay… it is mandatory. Only then can you be the best caregiver you can be for your loved one.
The following tips are from people who have been caregivers for important people in their lives.
Make time for yourself. Take yourself away from the caregiving experience. If it is possible to remove yourself physically, do so every once in a while. Visit friends and family, go to a movie, head to the mall, play some golf, or just take a long walk. If it is not possible to get away physically, read a good book, sit outside while your loved one is napping, knit or crochet, write in a journal, take a warm bath, meditate, exercise, or anything you enjoy that’s not related to caregiving.
Let others help out. Sometimes it can feel like there may not be enough time in the day to do everything that needs to get done in 24 hours when it comes to addressing all the needs of an ill or elderly loved one. If someone else offers you some assistance, take the person up on the offer. Come up with a list of ways other people can be the most helpful and productive. Maybe it would help to have someone shop for groceries, pick up medication at the pharmacy, cook a meal, or manage household chores. Even those people who do not live nearby can do things like placing calls to set up appointments or making online purchases.
Take care of your health. Make this the most important rule you follow as a caregiver. If you neglect your own health, you will not be able to care for someone else. It is as simple as that. So eat right, exercise as appropriate for your physical status, get plenty of sleep (which may mean grabbing a nap when possible), stay well-hydrated, and find ways to relieve stress and anxiety. See your doctor regularly and be open about how you are feeling mentally and physically.
Remember to laugh. The benefits of laughter have been well-documented. Countless studies have shown that laughter is good for our health and well-being. Create moments of joy and laughter for you and for the loved one in your care. Watch funny movies and television shows. Enjoy your favorite comedians. Read a funny book. Play silly games, like “Mad Libs.” Pick up a “Joke of the Day” calendar. Always try to find the humor in the silly things that happen every day. Even mistakes and missteps can be pretty funny in hindsight, as long as everything turns out well in the end.
Don’t expect too much of yourself. You are only human. You will not be the perfect caregiver. Nobody is. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do for your loved one. Set reasonable goals for yourself. Accept that there will be things that are impossible for you to manage on your own and some that may even fall through the cracks at times. Most likely, you will make some mistakes, but you will be trying your very best and that is all that’s humanly possible for anyone in such a difficult situation. Do not be too hard on yourself… and always remember to pat yourself on the back for all the things you do get right!
Learn about all resources and services available to you. Most cities and towns offer local resources for caregivers in their communities, such as adult daycare centers, meal delivery services, home aid services, volunteer companions, and many other services. Your local Agency on Aging, senior center, and public library should be able to help you find out what’s available in your neighborhood. Once you find out what’s out there, make sure to take full advantage of everything that can help support and guide you as you care for your loved one.
Stay as social as possible. Carrying all the daily responsibilities for someone who has a lot of needs can take over your life and leave you feeling very isolated. Stay connected with other people. If you can’t get together with someone in person, use Internet services to spend some face-to-face time together. Talk with people on the phone. It can be especially helpful to keep the lines of communication open with those folks in your life who you can talk with freely so you can talk honestly about what you are going through and how you are feeling. It is also important to stay connected with people you enjoy and who make you smile and laugh.