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The Family Caregiver Alliance, an organization founded in 1977, was the first community-based nonprofit organization in the country to address the needs of families and friends providing long-term care at home. Their research, task forces and position papers clearly show that most caregivers neglect their own health by not taking the time to engage in preventative health behaviors, such as exercising, eating well, getting adequate sleep or attending to personal doctor’s visits. Lack of support, and not knowing where to turn for it, compounds the problems.
At some point in your life, there may come a time when a person you love becomes ill or unable to function on his or her own. Your role shifts in a way for which you may not have been prepared. Your formerly independent parents suddenly feel like your children. Sick or disabled loved ones are in need of constant care and attention. As we become enmeshed in the caregiving, we may find our own life and needs slipping away. I learned a lot about what works to alleviate the stress and keep it all together while providing care for my parents. I hope these tips accumulated from the FCA and my own experience will help you to care for yourself if you find yourself in the caregiver role.
9 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers
1. Put your own self-care at the top of your priority list. You will be absolutely no help to anyone if you fall apart. Stick to your exercise routine, don't skip meals, fuel yourself with healthy foods and get the sleep you need. My daily run alleviated my stress, gave me a welcome break from attending to my parents' needs, and kept me feeling in control and energized. It may feel difficult to balance it all, but do not let yourself feel guilty for taking time for yourself. Likewise, avoid that guilt of not being able to "do it all" like you once did. Do what you can in these areas of wellness. It's about progress—not perfection.
2. Ask for and accept the help you need. There is no shame in asking others to help out wherever needed. Most people not only want to help, but feel really good about doing so. Whenever I needed help getting a lift to or from the airport, picking up things from the market, or cooking dinner, the assistance of my husband, children and friends was invaluable and very much appreciated.