Caregivers Need Care, Too: Taking Care of Yourself
Taking care of a loved one in need can take a lot of work. It's easy to end up putting the other person's needs before your own when caring for their every need. Ignoring your own health while taking care of someone else can carry serious risks.
“No matter your age, not making time for your own needs can cause sleep deprivation, poor eating habits and lack of exercise to name a few,” says Barry J. Jacobs, Psy.D., Director of Behavioral Sciences, Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program. “These habits can increase your risk for further health problems like depression and chronic illness. There could even be a possible decline in your quality of life.”
It’s important for caregivers to take care of themselves so they can take care of others. The Family Caregiver Alliance advises us to remember what you're told on an airplane: When the oxygen masks come down, put yours on first before helping others.
Here are tips for taking care of yourself while caring for a loved one.
An important step in identifying stress is to look for warning signs early. Waiting until you feel overwhelmed can make it harder to make necessary changes.
“Early warning signs of stress can include forgetfulness, sleep problems and mood changes,” says Dr. Jacobs. “Identifying these problems as soon as possible can help with making changes to reduce your risk for health problems.”
Identify sources of stress by asking yourself basic questions about what is causing it. Also, ask yourself what you can or cannot change about your situation. Even small changes like getting some help from other family members or trying stress reduction techniques can make a big difference.
Make Personal Time
A great way to help with stress management while being a caregiver is to make time for yourself. Being a caregiver can be both emotionally and physically demanding. It is important to find time to relax to regain the energy you need to take on the responsibilities of being a caregiver.
It’s easy to fall into a tough schedule of caring for your loved one all the time and every day. But to be the best caregiver you can be, it is important to take breaks even on the busiest of days. Examples of this could be going for a walk, taking a bath or going to see a friend. Taking time for yourself, even a few minutes a day, will help you refresh and avoid burnout.
Get Active and Eat Healthy
Getting active and having a healthy diet can also help with taking care of yourself while taking care of others.
“Eating right and finding time to fit even a little workout throughout the day can give you energy, de-stress, ward off depression and help you sleep better,” says Dr. Jacobs.
Your loved one you’re caring for may also need to be on a diet and need exercise as well. Find ways for you to eat better and get exercise together.
Ask for Help
A big step, and maybe one of the hardest to take, is to know when to ask for and accept help. It is important to be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
Make a list of things that family members or friends can help you with. It can be simple such as someone watching the person you care for while you run errands or asking a relative to pick up some groceries for you. Ask and the help will follow where it can.