The Importance of Self-Care When Caregiving
If you are or have ever served as a caregiver for a parent or other aging adult, you know that many moments can be stressful, yet also beautiful and meaningful at the same time. While being a caregiver can provide your life with meaning and purpose, as well as enhance your relationship with the person you are caring for, it can also put you at risk for experiencing high levels of stress, depression, and burnout. With all of these contradictory effects, it can be difficult to manage your own health and well-being. While this can be hard, self-care is imperative for a caregiver throughout the caregiving process. Below are some tips to help you take care of yourself and your health as you also care for your parent or other older adult:
1. Allow yourself to acknowledge both the positive and negative emotions you may be experiencing.
Many caregivers feel ashamed to admit that they feel stressed, fatigued, frustrated, angry, or sad as they are caring for their parent or other older adult. It is important to allow yourself to get in touch with these emotions, as well as the positive ones you may experience as well, such as gratitude and finding purpose. It is natural to experience both types of emotions, as well as important to express both of these. If you do not express them, they become stuffed down, which can backfire later on, often leading to depression, anxiety, and burnout. One way to begin the acknowledgment and expression of these emotions is to practice mindfulness exercises, such as meditation or guided breathing. Journaling about your emotions can also help you express them in a healthy way and give you an opportunity to work through and make sense of them. In addition, therapy can be a safe place to talk about these emotions without the worry of being judged.
2. Do something for yourself at least once a week.
When you are caregiving, it can be easy to feel like your own needs are not as important as the parent or adult’s you are caring for. But there’s a reason they tell you on the airplane that in the case of an emergency, put your air mask on first before putting it on others. It can be hard to take care of others if you are not also taking care of yourself as well. It is not selfish to take some time here and there to do something you enjoy. In fact, it is the exact opposite of being selfish because you are going to be a more effective caregiver as a result of taking some time to rest and recharge. It can be helpful to set a recurring time each week for you to do something for yourself and only yourself, such as going for a walk, watching your favorite TV show, or going to lunch with a friend.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you are feeling fatigued, overwhelmed, and like you just need a break, listen to your body. If you have other family members nearby, ask them to step in for a few hours while you take a break. If you don’t have the option of family being nearby, asking for help can also be in the form of seeking therapy or attending a support group where you can talk openly about your experiences as a caregiver, as well as listen to those of others in similar situations.