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  • Karen McPhail, RN, MSN

Taking care of yourself: Tips for Caregivers!

Being a caregiver is a tough job!

Taking care of a loved one is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week of adjustment, change, stress, apprehension, and uncertainty. Along the way caregivers often times find themselves feeling stuck, losing their sense of self and identity. They are no longer the person they used to be, they are simply a care giver with a never ending job. If you find yourself feeling this way you need to stop and make a change. No matter how busy you are, you own it to yourself to take a little time out to be you! You cannot help others if you are not helping yourself! Show yourself as much compassion as you are showing your loved one! Do not feel guilty for taking the time you will thank yourself later!

When you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out or anxious try these strategies to get back on track:

  1. Stop! Put yourself in time-out! You are grounded! Make yourself stop even if it is for ten minutes to sit down, close your eyes in a quiet room and deep breathe. Try to quiet your mind and relax. Push aside any distractions, negative thoughts, tasks. When negative thoughts creep in dismiss them quickly... Imagine that they are a cloud and that you are pushing them away until they disappear. Try coming up with a mantra to focus on and repeat mentally while breathing, such as I am happy, I am peaceful, I am balanced. A daily meditation practice can help a great deal with stress management and anxiety.

  2. Make time for you! Do not feel guiltly! Schedule in your calendar time away to go the gym, the spa, have lunch with a friend, take a nap, sit in the park, take a walk, or even sit and read a book over a cup of tea. Knowing that you will have time to rest and decompress will make all the difference going forward.

  3. Take time to eat properly. Take a moment to eat a well-balanced meal and stock in healthy snacks. Keep a simple log of what you are eating...this can be a real wake up call! Often times you do not realize how much or how poorly you are eating until you write it down! You will feel better if you are providing your body with proper fuel!

  4. Remember to drink enough fluids. Also track this by doing simple tally marks for each 8 oz glass. Have bottled water on hand as your go to beverage throughout the day! Keep a carafe or pitcher of water out at home as a reminder to drink and hydrate! Poor hydration will lead to headaches, fatigue and other issues.

  5. Limit alcohol and caffeine, as they can set off anxiety or panic attacks. If you need that one cup of coffee each am, I understand! Perhaps have one cup of regular coffee in the am and then decaffeinated beverages the rest of the day!

  6. Sleep! Ensure that you get enough sleep at night! If caregiver duties prevent this, make a plan for how you can get consistent sleep. This leads to the next area...

  7. Ask for help when needed! Do not be afraid to reach out to friends and family to give you a break or help out! Most people want to help!!! Just ask!

  8. Exercise daily! This will help with your overall mood and health. It will also help you to feel a sense of achievement as you are doing something positive to maintain your health! Even if you take 5 minutes to stretch each am and build from there, this is progress Set goals for yourself that are realistic and that you can achieve..this will limit self doubt, more anxiety, and frustration.

  9. Find joy in the little things. Make your home environment and time providing care as pleasant as possible. Acknowledge the little things that bring happiness. Play music that you enjoy or light a scented candle. It is the simple things that often times bring us the most joy!

  10. Be in the moment! Do not dwell on the future and what may come! Enjoy the special moments that you have with your loved one. Make the most of the time and circumstances. Find positives in your day. Take time to hold hands, hug, or simply sit together.

  11. Show compassion for yourself. Dismiss guilt, fear, and anger. Be true to yourself and the rest will follow!

  12. Vent. Take time to talk with others about how you feel. Just getting things off your chest can really help! Talk to a friend, a family member, or attend a community support group.

  13. Reach out! Get help when you need it. Notice that I have said this twice! This is not by accident! Use your resources! Speak with your physician or a Geriatric Care Manager to help reduce stress and obtain support.

  14. Live!

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