Caregivers often forget to prioritize their own care.
An ill loved one’s needs may seem more urgent, but even in an emergency, it’s vital to care for ourselves first. For example, if you’re rushing your spouse to the hospital at 3 a.m., as I had to do with my husband due to complications from a paralyzing stroke, it’s important to look inward and make sure that you’re alert and settled enough to drive safely, so that you don’t wind up in an accident and cause an even greater crisis. Or in a more mundane moment—for example, when a parent with dementia is getting confused and angry at dinner—it may be essential to pause, breathe, and find a way to stay calm and relaxed before choosing how to respond. Whatever the situation, if you take a moment to care for yourself, everyone will benefit.
September offers a reminder of the importance of self-care, because it’s National Self-Care Awareness Month. For caregivers, this reminder is vital. Caregivers tend to forgo their own self-care because they are so busy looking after other people. It’s easy to forget to schedule personal doctors’ appointments, while rarely forgetting to do so for loved ones. Or they might not make time for exercise or recuperation, while regularly taking a loved one to physical therapy. Caregivers also tend to suffer disproportionately from depression, cancer and heart disease. This risks their lives and their loved ones’ lives too.
Remember, it’s not selfish to think of self-care; it’s necessary for everyone. So pause a moment to take care of yourself.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
This can be quick—for example, by assessing how you feel and communicating your needs—or take some planning, such as finding something enjoyable to do with a friend.
1) Do a Check In
A first step to better self-care is learning to regularly assess yourself. Take a moment to consider how you’re feeling both emotionally and physically, then care for whatever is problematic. If you’re feeling sad, anxious, or stressed, then call a friend, attend a caregivers’ support group, or make an appointment with a therapist. Zoom and Skype can make this easier as your phone can allow you to connect with a therapist without even leaving the house. It’s important to ask for help and see if that improves your symptoms. If you’re ailing physically, consider improving your diet, incorporating a better exercise regime, or contacting a physician for an assessment. There’s no need to suffer unnecessarily, so reach out, get help, and take time to care for yourself, body and soul.
2) Think First
Before agreeing to any new request or commitment, take a moment to think first. It’s okay to say ‘no,’ and for caregivers, it may be the difference between burnout and a healthy balanced life. Even if you say ‘yes’ and then realize it’s too much, you can change your mind and say ‘no.’ If ‘no’ is something that is particularly hard for you, practice with a friend, especially if you know someone who is good at declining invitations gracefully. Learning to say ‘no’ can be difficult and may feature stops and starts, but it can also free you from stress and anxiety. It also gets easier. So find ways to put ‘no’ into your life.
3) Make a Date with You
One of the most fun ways to practice self-care is by making a weekly date with yourself. Put it on the calendar. Tell your loved ones, then go and do whatever delights you. Perhaps you crave an outing to a special restaurant with a friend or maybe you prefer a latte and a book at a comfy coffee shop. If you dream of taking a scenic hike or watching a movie at the theater, do it. Make it a habit so that everyone knows that Wednesday evening is your time for yourself. If you can’t leave the house due to your loved one’s issues, then still find a way to make that night special. Stream a movie. Do a craft. Take a bubble bath and read a novel. This is your time, and it’s important to treasure it. Afterwards, you’ll find yourself refreshed to tackle your next caregiving challenge.
Remember, let September be a reminder that you’re important too, so take care of yourself. You’re worth it!
Thank you for reading, please share with a friend, and be well! —KK
Please consider making a donation to the Kathi Koll Foundation so you can help make a difference in struggling family caregivers’ lives. Thank you!
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