The Challenge of Self-Care as a Caregiver: 5 Important Ways You Can Care for Yourself.

May 10, 2022

So you’re going to be caring for someone?  People need care in different life situations and in all age groups. Very often, we’re caring for an elderly parent. That’s often quite mind-blowing. They should be caring for us, right? Now the roles have reversed, and we are their caregiver. As a caregiver, you’ll be called upon to perform suitable curative, palliative, and preventive measures. 

Among other things, the tasks include:

  • Personal hygiene
  • Helping with meals
  • Helping with shopping and cleaning
  • Wound care and dressings
  • Taking blood pressure, pulse, temperature, etc.
  • Observation and documentation
  • Care of the seriously ill
  • Caring for the dying

Caregivers are also contact persons; people in need of care and relatives want to receive information about the person being cared for.

“Your body does have a natural way to combat stress. The counter-stress system is called the ‘relaxation response’, regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system. You can purposefully activate the relaxation response through mind-body practices like yoga, tai chi, meditation, and deep relaxation techniques.” Harvard Health

What are the 5 Qualities of a Good Caregiver?

Does this sound like you?

  1. Are you good at organizing time and resources?
  2. Are you empathetic? Can you empathize with the fears and worries of sick people?
  3. Are you able to treat people kindly and fairly, even if you don't like them very much or if they show difficult behavior because of their illness or age?
  4. Are you a good communicator?
  5. Do you have patience? Do you not mind if people take longer to talk, get dressed, etc., because of their illness, disability, or age?

A good caregiver needs these qualities and more. Caring for someone, especially a family member or parent, is extremely stressful. Often we have raised our children, and caring for a parent means being on call again.

How often do you want to say, “Hey, just get up and walk it off?” or “If you only got out of the house, you would feel better.” So many times, the love we have for someone we are caring for is so great that our desire for them to be their old, spritely self overcomes our patience and common sense. We feel helpless and anxious. 

“Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you're more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity, or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.” Mayo Clinic

How Do I Become a Good Caregiver?

Not everyone is cut out for the demands of caregiving. It requires resolve, patience, and training. Older Americans are often not cared for at home by their family members. Many millions of people care for their parents, often without formal training or support. 

Don’t care alone! Anyone in a caregiver role should look for any opportunities for training in their region. In addition, it’s important to seek out support from agencies and healthcare providers.

“Established in 1996, The National Alliance for Caregiving is dedicated to improving the quality of life for friend and family caregivers and those in their care, by advancing research, advocacy, and innovation.” Help for Caregivers 

What Habits are Important for a Caregiver?

This is an important question. Just as caring for another person, you need to take care of yourself. If you don’t remain healthy, you will be unable to help anyone who requires care. Caregivers can best care for themselves best by developing good work habits.

  • The two-minute rule: "Anything you can do in two minutes or less, do it now."
  • Keep an overview: Take five minutes each day to make a To-Do list. Studies show we work more effectively if we can check those things off our list.
  • Don't forget the feel-good factor: On average, we spend a third of our life at work, so we should actively take ten minutes at the start of each day to actively improve our work-life.
  • Taking Breaks: Breaks are there to recharge energy and rest and take a breath between work.  
  • Promoting a positive attitude: Our brains are 31 percent more productive when we approach something with a positive attitude rather than negative stress.

“The physical and emotional demands of caring for a loved one with a serious illness can be exhausting and even lead to burnout. It's important to maintain your own health and well-being so you can provide the best possible care.” UCSF Health

How Can Caregivers Take Care of Themselves?

Self-Care Tip #1 Actively shape your everyday

Create a balance through an active everyday life -- with sport, relaxation, and exercise. Exercise can make you feel physically fit and balanced, but it also has a positive effect on your mood. Incorporate a walk into your lunch break first thing in the morning. Getting out of the work environment and into a green landscape can feel liberating.

Self-Care Tip #2 Meditate and relax

Meditating can be so simple and yet so difficult at the same time. All you need for short meditation exercises is a quiet place and your attention completely on yourself. If you engage in meditation, several benefits speak for themselves right away: meditation promotes your emotional health, reduces stress, has a calming effect, and helps control anxiety. To get started, simple yoga exercises or progressive muscle relaxation exercises may also be something for you. 

Self-Care Tip #3 Don’t only care for patients but also your friendships

Between the stressful daily routine of caring, friendships are often tested. So as not to lose yourself in the job, it’s important that you also maintain your contacts. It doesn't always have to be an extensive meeting either; a short date for a coffee in the lunch break or dinner after work creates variety and nurtures your friendship. WhatsApp, FaceTime, Instagram, and Facebook make it easier than ever to stay in touch. And there’s nothing wrong is a text message or phone call.

Self-Care Tip #4 Good food instead of fast food

Who hasn't caught themselves fighting stress with sugar or junk food? A hectic working day and tight routines tempt us to reach for fast food quickly. But a healthy and balanced diet is an important step toward staying fit and healthy in the long term. Just google the term "Meal prep," and you'll find a wide range of recipe suggestions just waiting for you to try.

Self-Care Tip #5 Me time: make time for yourself

Read, watch Netflix, or simply do what you like. In simple activities for yourself, you can find the balance that your stressful everyday needs. Consciously make time in your week for things you enjoy doing and where you can switch off. Reading, for example, can boost your mental health and reduce stress at the same time. Make these times binding for yourself!

“On an airplane, an oxygen mask descends in front of you. What do you do? As we all know, the first rule is to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else. Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. Caring for yourself is one of the most important—and one of the most often forgotten—things you can do as a caregiver.”

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Senior Living FYI

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