I won’t say caring for another while trying to take care of yourself is an easy task but it can be done. Our first priority is often focused on the other person especially if they are ill, elderly or very young. I have had to deal with taking care of my ill spouse for five years now. He is not elderly but he has needed more and more care as the years go by. As he becomes more compromised, with comorbidities, we require more outside help. Finding the right care aides is no easy task but it can be done and they are a tremendous help. Places where I’ve been able to find great care aides are nursing schools, referrals, skilled nursing facilities, and of course agencies as well.
So let’s dive in a little bit more into caring for yourself while caring for another.
Here are my five tips:
Tip #1: Having help is a must (as mentioned above). If even just for an hour or two during the day so you can get your bearings and have some rest or take a walk. Even if you don’t hire help try to enroll your community or your neighbors. Ask for help. Taking care of another is a difficult job and it often takes a village – so ask for help. It’s really quite remarkable, and moving, just how many people are willing to help out. Others may be able to help with shopping or staying with your loved one for a period of time. They may also be able to help if an emergency arises such as a fall occurs. Of course if it’s serious call 911 immediately. However, if it’s simply a “soft” fall, as I call it, you can also call 911 and ask for a “lift assist”. The fire department will come immediately and assist your loved one back into their chair, wheelchair or bed. There are plenty of resources available, know that you do not have to do this all by yourself.
Tip #2:Get support call a friend or a family member. Laugh with them, share stories and engage. Take some time to be with others and share in their lives, Welcome the joy of having healing and meaningful conversations. Sometimes wisdom and support can come from people and places you never expected. There are certain community organizations with eager volunteers who are willing to help and do whatever is needed. I remember volunteers from one of our local organizations used to take my husband to his dialysis appointments 3 times a week. Everyone benefited, I received help by not having to transport my husband, the volunteers felt fulfilled helping and my husband had additional companionship and has since developed special relationships with these caring individuals. Their presence in your life makes you feel like you’re not alone. And certainly your church or places of faith can also provide essential support for you as well.
Tip #3: You need and deserve care as well. If you’re dealing with an elderly parent or a disabled partner it can be a grueling experience where you often feel there is no reprieve. Know that you deserve to take time for you. Do not ever feel guilty again about this. You need care and time to recharge your batteries mentally, physically, and emotionally. If you don’t rest or take time off you’re more susceptible to injury, fatigue, or illness yourself. Unfortunately, you may sometimes wonder where you disappeared to as more often than not the focus seems to be on the other person and on their needs. You have needs, too and those needs are just as important. Avoid any impulse to disregard, deny or delay your wants and wishes, if you do you may find yourself feeling resentment and then subsequently feeling guilty about the resentment and so on. You get the picture. Acknowledge your needs and wants – they are real and valid. You may want to explore this further with a therapist or counselor. Just know that you matter – remember this.
Tip #4: Eat well. No matter what make sure you eat well. Make a nutritious salad for yourself chocked full of greens, red onions, tomatoes, radishes, etc. whatever you enjoy. Bake a piece of salmon with grilled asparagus and yams. Avoid snacking and eating a lot of sugary, fatty and/or salty foods – these will only deplete you, create cravings and make you even more fatigued than you already are. Make your meal time and your meals a special occasion. If you’re not able to share your meal time with the loved one you’re caring for perhaps schedule your meals together so at least there is some feeling of togetherness separate from your caregiving role. Make your mealtime a priority. Remember even though what you eat – a nutritionally dense diet – is important, how you eat is just as important. Making your dining atmosphere harmonious and peaceful will serve you both and will also enhance better digestion.
Tip #5: Get your sleep. I cannot overemphasize how vital this is. I speak and write about Vitamin S (sleep) continuously. Do not forfeit your sleep while taking care of another person. If you don’t sleep or get the rest you need you will be of little value to the person who’s receiving your care or to yourself. You cannot afford to miss out on solid, deep sleep. Again you need to recharge your batteries daily if you want to function the following day. And if your caregiving lasts for more than a few weeks you will need the continued energy that a good night’s sleep brings in order to sustain yourself and keep you strong and healthy long term. If you feel too stressed due to your caregiving role try magnesium or melatonin at bedtime. You could also try some of the various calming teas available in the marketplace, however for some it may create an increase need to go to the bathroom during the night therefore interrupting your sleep not improving it. You could try downloading an app for REM sleep or listening to relaxing music. Experiment and do whatever works so you can find those regenerating Zzzzz.
I hope these tips give you a better idea of how important it is for you to take care of yourself in any and every situation you are facing in your life. Remember the saying: when in an airplane remember to give yourself the oxygen mask first because if you’re not healthy and strong it’s very difficult for you to help anybody else.
Stay strong, stay healthy, and remember your oxygen.