You may already know that as the caregiver of an ill, elderly, or recovering family member, it’s difficult to be as effective as you’d like to be without also taking care of yourself. Much has been made about the importance of self-care for a caregiver. But even with all the data and advice, you may still feel like you don’t have enough time to devote to yourself, especially if the demands placed on you are high or if you are the sole caregiver in a situation. Fortunately, even small measures once a day or a few times a week can have a positive impact on your energy levels and overall frame of mind. The following are some things you can do right now to care for yourself:
- Breathe. It might sound overly simple, but even one to five minutes of focused, deep breathing per day can help calm stress, clear your mind, and infuse your being with more energy. Take a few minutes for yourself, breathe a little slower and deeper than you normally would, and feel your breath as it moves in and out of your chest, not worrying if your mind wanders or wants to settle on worrisome thoughts. This simple exercise requires no special skills or time commitment. And best of all, focused breathing can be done before, after, or even during your care-giving routine.
- Walk. Taking a 10-minute walk around the block or even around a backyard is a restorative exercise that helps boost your overall health. Observing nature and getting some fresh air allows you to check in with yourself and relieve tension, much like focused breathing. If your loved one requires constant care, ask a neighbor or friend to drop by for a bit so that you can go outside for a walk. Or if you’re able to, consider walking with that friend or neighbor; the social stimulation is good for taking your mind off immediate concerns. Here are some additional benefits of walking for your mind and body.
- Communicate. You may have times throughout the day when you feel frustrated or downright angry with the loved one you are caring for, which is a common response to stress and exhaustion. One way to get a handle on your feelings and avoid an escalating situation is to identify how you feel with “I” statements, rather than blame the other person with “you” statements. In this way, you can get to the root of what’s causing you frustration, own your feelings around it, and be less likely to operate from a place of resentment—which only creates a cycle of more frustration and anger. And when the person you’re caring for isn’t put in a defensive position, you’re both better able to discuss the problem at hand and come up with a workable solution.
- Delegate. Caregivers, no matter how competent, still need help from time to time. But often the people who want to help aren’t sure how or what is needed the most. Take a few minutes to prepare a simple list of tasks or activities so that the next time a friend or family member offers their help you can give them some concrete choices. It could be anything from relieving you for a set amount of time to take that walk (as mentioned above), or helping with meals or baths, doing much-needed shopping or errands, or even catching up on paperwork. Knowing what can be done, and being ready to delegate at a moment’s notice, will help you feel empowered and less overwhelmed.
- Listen. At the end of the day, you are a human being, who is subject to emotional toll as anyone else. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to listen to what’s going on in your heart. Emotions, when left unchecked, can make any situation feel larger or worse than it is. Keep an emotions diary by writing down what you are feeling, as often as you think about it. Are you feeling predominantly stress, anger, or frustration? Or maybe sadness, fear, or self-doubt? Do you have moments of joy or peace? Or are you consumed by only negative feelings? Too many days in a row of sadness or anger could be a sign of depression, and you may need to talk to a professional who can help. But by keeping track of your emotions, you can better hear, identify, and learn from them so that you can find productive ways to shift your overall mood or outlook.