Who Cares for the Caregivers?

Ceremonies and rituals often mark big events in life; but when you become a family caregiver, there are no ceremonies or rituals. No one congratulates you. No one sends presents. No one even asks if you want to become a caregiver, or tells you what it might mean. You may not even have realized that you have taken this life-changing step. Below are some important actions and thoughts that may help you as a caregiver:

1) Ask for help

Speak up. Don’t expect friends and family members to automatically know what you need or how you’re feeling.

Spread the responsibility. Try to get as many family members involved as possible.

Set up a regular check-in. Ask a family member, friend, or volunteer from your church or senior center to call you on a set basis (every day, weekly, or however often you think you need it). This person can help you spread status updates and coordinate with other family members.

Accept assistance. Accept help and let them feel good about supporting you.

Be willing to relinquish some control. Delegate, don’t micromanage.

2) Give yourself a break

As a busy caregiver, leisure time may seem like an impossible luxury. But you owe it to yourself—as well as to the person you’re caring for—to carve it into your schedule.

Set aside a minimum of 30 minutes every day for yourself. Do what you enjoy: reading, gardening, knitting, or watching the game.

Find ways to pamper yourself. Try small luxuries light candles, take a long bath, get a manicure, or buy fresh flowers for the house.

Get out of the house. Seek out friends and family to step in with caregiving so you can have some time away from the home.

Visit with friends and share your feelings. The simple act of expressing what you’re going through can be very helpful. If it’s difficult to leave the house, invite friends over to visit with you over coffee or dinner.

3) Practice acceptance

When faced with the unfairness of a loved one’s illness or the burden of caregiving, there’s often a need to make sense of the situation and ask “Why?” But you can spend a tremendous amount of energy dwelling on things you can’t change and for which there are no clear answers. Try to avoid the emotional trap of feeling sorry for yourself or searching for someone to blame. Focus on accepting the situation and looking for ways it can help you grow as a person.

Focus on the things you can control. You can’t wish your mother’s cancer away or force your brother to help out more. Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, focus on the way you choose to react to problems.

Find the silver lining. Think about the ways caregiving has made you stronger or how it’s brought you closer to person you’re taking care of or to other family members. Think about how caregiving allows you to give back and show your love.

4) Take care of your health

Think of your body like a car. With the right fuel and proper maintenance, it will run reliably and well. Neglect its upkeep and it will start to give you trouble. Don’t add to the stress of your caregiving situation with avoidable health woes.

Keep on top of your doctor visits. Don’t skip check-ups or medical appointments.

Exercise. Exercise is a powerful mood enhancer and stress reducer.

Meditate.  Relieve stress and boost feelings of joy and well-being.

Eat well. Fuel your body with steady energy.

Get your sleep. When you get less, your mood, energy, productivity, and ability to handle stress will suffer.

5) Join a support group

A caregiver support group is a way to share your troubles and find people who are going through the same experiences that you are living each day. In most support groups, you’ll talk about your problems and listen to others talk; you’ll not only get help, but you’ll also be able to help others. Most important, you’ll find out that you’re not alone.