The Fine Art Of Caring For Yourself As A New Caregiver
Taking care of a sick person is hard work. It’s difficult enough for professionals. Studies show that people employed in the caring professions suffer high rates of burnout and compassion fatigue. They experience depression and develop higher rates of cardiovascular disease. But most caregiving is provided in large part, not by professionals, but by untrained family members.
They suffer similar medical and emotional burdens, which develop into a wide range of acute and chronic health conditions. If you are taking care of a relative with a chronic illness, you are 63 percent more likely to die than someone your age who isn’t taking care of a loved one. What can you do to keep yourself from becoming one of these frightening statistics? The key to maintaining your health is following good self-care practices, taking care of your own health, so that you can continue taking care of others.
Caring For Your Body
Your body is a machine, and it needs fuel and regular maintenance to keep functioning correctly. You need to eat a healthy balanced diet so that you have the strength to meet the challenges of your life. It’s tempting to give in to the lure of a quick and easy drive-through meal, but over time, that will take its toll on you. Swap empty calories for nutritious, regular meals. Avoid caffeine and sugar; the energy spike they give you is quickly followed by a crash that leaves you feeling worse than when you started.
Get regular physical exercise. Aim for 30 minutes each day. You can break it up into 10-minute increments throughout the day, if you prefer. And try to get some of it outdoors. Studies show that exercise builds stronger bones and muscles and lifts your mood. Getting outdoors enhances the effect by adding vitamin D absorption from sunlight. There’s even good evidence that exercise in green, natural wooded settings improves t-cell function, helping to prevent infection and promote the healing process.
Your sleep is vital. Sleep deprivation can hamper performance as effectively as narcotics. You don’t want to make medical decisions or dispensing medication if you’re not in possession of your mental faculties. But beyond that, sleep deprivation can cause serious medical issues, such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It makes you more prone to depression and the development of mental illness. Make your sleep schedule a high priority in your life. Set aside enough time to get a full eight hours a night. Create a soothing bedtime ritual to help you relax, such as a warm bath, followed by meditation, prayer, or journaling before you go to sleep.
Caring For Your Spirit
Looking after a loved one with a chronic illness takes a tremendous emotional and physical toll. You need to keep your emotional energy reserves up, too. Consider taking up yoga. Its proven health benefits encompass the physical and the spiritual. Stretching and meditation are great stress relievers. Yoga elevates your mood, promoting a sense of well-being. It can also improve your balance, range of motion and strength.
But there are other things you can do to help yourself recharge emotionally. Prayer can be a great comfort to people with a strong religious faith. It can help you find purpose and meaning in your experiences and manage the stresses of caregiving. A supportive faith community can act as a social safety net, giving you an outlet for communicating about what you’re feeling. They can even pitch in and help you with the occasional day off.
Developing other interests will help you manage your stress level and unwind, too. Take up a new hobby, or re-involve yourself in an old one you’ve let slide. Go dancing, plant a garden or read a good book. There’s a booming trend in adult coloring books right now as stress relievers. Find something you enjoy doing, and give yourself permission to take some down time to pursue it.
Self-care is the loving act of a responsible caregiver, ensuring sure you’re there to do the job, and that you have the physical and emotional resources necessary for the task. Your loved ones are counting on you.
Harry Cline is creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.