When There is No Time For You
Most articles about caregivers assume that you have choices. For the purposes of this article, we will assume that your choices are fairly limited. Ideally, as a caregiver you would make time for yourself by getting someone else to take over your role for an hour or so each day and few hours every weekend. There are a lot of reasons this doesn’t happen regularly for caregivers, so we will focus on what to do when the best case scenario isn’t possible. As much time as you spend caring for your loved one, there is often little time left for you. I recommend turning the tables a bit here, by acknowledging that you will not be able to do anything for your loved one if you don’t take care of your own health. Check out the article Caregivers: Our Everyday Heros for more information on burnout and compassion fatigue, and how to prevent/address those problems.
Sleep and Rest: At a minimum you need to sleep 6-8 hours at night, if possible. If you don’t get enough sleep at night, find a way to nap while your loved one is sleeping during the day. This may require turning off the phone and putting a do not disturb sign on the door for a few hours, but it is worth a try. If your loved one doesn’t sleep much (or well) during the night/day, you might need to go away to get some restful sleep as often as possible. Again, I know this is not always possible, but if you have a family member or friend who will sit with your loved one for a few hours during the day and allow you to take a rest at their place during that time, try that.
You may have trouble falling asleep in a strange place during the day, but at least allow yourself to rest for a while. If possible, take a weekend off every few weeks. Many people find a respite caregiver to come in and stay for the weekend. You can use that time to check into a hotel and simply rest and catch up on sleep, or get away for a bit. If you can’t afford a hotel, check with friends and family to see who might have a spare room. Take ear plugs and black out the sun, if needed. Ideally, you might use some of that time for a massage or sauna, hot tub or swim.
Contact your local United Way, Area Agency on Aging, social services, home health care or medical provider for respite care providers.
Food and Nourishment: Try to drink as much water as possible to stay hydrated. Eat meals that are good for you – with plenty of protein to keep your strength up and blood sugar stable. Try to eat fruits and veggies at every meal. You may need to feed yourself before you feed your loved one. Just remember that you need your strength. Take a good multi-vitamin and extra supplements if you have specific needs.
If you need help developing a diet based on your specific needs, talk to your medical provider or a nutritionist.
Annual physical with Lab Work: Although it might take some finesse to arrange it, it is important to keep your annual check ups, including dental, mammograms, colonoscopies and the works. Caregivers are at high risk for becoming ill due to the stress of the job, wear and tear on the body and poor self care. If you want to continue to care for your loved one, you must take care of you, too.
Keep in touch with your medical providers and follow through with annual and semi-annual wellness appointments.
Exercise and Movement: You don’t have to work out in a gym to stay active. There are programs on cable television, the internet and DVDs that you can do from the comfort of your own home. The key to getting and staying active is finding something you enjoy. Wii Fitness has a variety of games, dances, hula hoops, sports and other things you can do at home. Some people use a can of soup in each hand as weights while they follow along with their favorite DVD or exercise program on television.
Whatever you do, try to do it 30 minutes each day 3-5 days per week (or more). If you can arrange to go out for a walk every day, do it! Even better if you can go to a class at the local rec center. Exercise will keep your body in better health, sharpen your brain and ward off depression and anxiety.
Check online and community resources for classes and wellness opportunities.
Support: A good support network is critical to good self care when you are a caregiver. There are online support groups, community support groups and telephone support groups for those who are interested. On a more organic level, reach out to people in your church/synagogue, community and neighborhood. Many communities have ‘friendly visitors’ who stop by to see how things are going and offer emotional support. The local agency on aging (also serves people with disabilities who are younger) may be a good resource to locate such support. Also check out center for independent living.
Reach out to United Way, the Area Agency on Aging or other social services organizations, churches/synagogues for referrals.
Sunshine: Try to get outside for 20 minutes every day. The sunshine provides Vitamin D and other goodies that will help you stay strong and minimize depression.
Sit outside for 20-30 minutes daily to reap the benefits of the sunshine.
"6 Signs of Caregiver Burnout." AARP. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.
"10 Ways to Deal With Caregiver Stress." AARP. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.