* This is the fourth and final installment in a series where we will be discussing some realistic ways that Caregivers can cope with the stresses of care-giving.
Okay, I said it. You need to take care of yourself.
If you are a caregiver, you may be rolling your eyes at this point, or laughing maniacally because self-care may FEEL like an impossible task. I get that, I really do. But it is a NECESSARY task.
I’m not going to tell you to relax, or to go get a massage. I mean, if you can do those things, great. But I know it’s a rare opportunity that you get a whole afternoon to yourself and can actually unwind in those few hours before returning to the care-giving. I know that being in a perpetual state of “survival mode” may mean that when you finally DO get a few hours to yourself, you have no idea what to do with them. I also know that finances may be tight and running on over to your local spa is not a luxury that everyone can afford. (But again, if you can, by all means please do so).
The bottom line is that no matter how much you love the person you are caring for, the physical and emotional stress of care-giving is high. It is not unusual for care-givers to suffer serious health issues or even die before the care recipient. For these reasons, it is part of your job to take care of yourself so that you can continue to care for your loved one. For all of you guilt-ridden care-givers out there, let me say it one more time – It is part of your JOB to take care of yourself.
Here are a few everyday ways that you can start the self-care process:
- Move Your Body: Exercise is a natural stress reliever. You don’t have to run a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise. Try going for a walk; maybe a longer-than-usual one with the dog (if you have one!). In addition to exercise, meditation is key to stress-relief. Combine movement and meditation and guess what you’ve got – Yoga! You don’t have to sign up for an expensive yoga package at your local gym – instead rent a yoga video from your local library or try finding some YouTube videos that can guide you through at-home yoga (there are all levels and kinds – consider chair yoga, laughter yoga and gentle-stretching and meditation if you’re a beginner and check with your physician first to make sure it’s safe!)
- Treat Yourself: It can be something very small that doesn’t take much time or money that can make your day. Can you get yourself a cup of coffee from your favorite shop? A favorite magazine? Do you have a few minutes to give yourself a manicure or go for a drive? Can you listen to a few minutes of your favorite podcast while you complete a chore? Is there anyway to squeeze in a hot bath or a nap?
- Get Support! The importance of this cannot be overstated. Expand your network of support so that you have a mix of family, friends, neighbors and others that you can lean on when you need to. Support groups, counselors, our Helpline and other professionals should be a part of your network. For more ideas on exactly how to reach out for support, refer back to our last post in this series!
- Talk to your doctor: If you are experiencing ongoing stress, anxiety and/or depression – that’s serious. Don’t wait to talk to your doctor about this. Care-giving can be very overwhelming and your feelings are normal but we don’t want your symptoms to worsen over time. Think that on-going stress isn’t a problem? Click HERE to heck out a cool video about how it impacts your brain.
- Be kind to yourself: This is really hard. We are our own worst critics. You are probably going to make some mistakes. At times you may lose your temper. It’s okay. Laugh when things are funny. Cry when things are sad. Don’t be afraid to feel your feelings – they’re all normal and a part of the journey. Doubt is inevitable and caregiving is chock-full of tough decision after tough-decision. If you are making decisions from a place of empathy and with your loved one’s dignity in mind, then you’re doing just fine. Trust yourself, be kind to yourself, you’re doing the best you can.
- Advocate: Do our legislators know how difficult this is? Do you wish there were more resources for care-givers and people with dementia diagnoses? Do you pray for a cure? The way we increase resources and funding for research is through our advocacy efforts. Not only is this how we make real, sustainable change, but it is a great way to meet other people going through the same things that you are struggling with. If you’re feeling dis-empowered by Alzheimer’s Disease – take back your power and become an Advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. Get more information about that HERE.