“To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world” – Dr.Seuss.
Caregivers are unsung heroes who show love and care, often at the expense of their own well-being. In this second part of my thoughts on caregiving, I wanted to talk about self-care, since I saw my mother taking care of my dad, who is almost bedridden, with so much love and courage while at the same time I struggled to do the same, when I wanted to give her a break for a couple of days. I realized how difficult it is to take care of oneself when you are giving care to someone. Ironic, but true.
Caregiving is hard and caregivers are “on call” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That means self-care becomes all the more important for a caregiver. It is mandatory that you take care of yourself to do a good job as a caregiver. How do you do that with an already packed schedule?
Here are some tips on how to go about it:
Accept/ask for help
Friends or family members might want to help but sometimes they wouldn’t know how. So help them by asking for help and be specific. If they offer help without being asked, by all means, accept it; you deserve it.
Self-help: If you don’t see any signs of help being offered, don’t lose heart. You can use help to minimise other commitments and chores. There are also options such as paid caregivers, hospital volunteers or even nurses looking for part-time jobs. This is when social media can come to your rescue.
Avoid caregiver burnout
To begin with, caregiving can be done with enthusiasm, given the fact that the sick person is a loved one. However in the case of long-term care, the enthusiasm gives way to fatigue and irritability, and we end up feeling guilty for not being a good caregiver.
Self-help: Ensure that you take a scheduled break at least once a week, requesting family members or the secondary caregiver to take turns. Apart from that, remember to take mini-breaks during the day when the patient is resting. Reading, writing, listening to music, talking to friends, cooking, watching your favorite reality show, or any hobby that helps you relax – all these could be done while you are still watching over your loved one. If you have help at home, then going for a short walk can be an option. When you are a caregiver, even grocery shopping could seem like a mini-vacation.
Risk of depression or anxiety
The challenges caregivers face depend on the health condition of the person they are caring for. Taking care of loved ones with cancer, dementia or mental problems like Alzheimer’s disease can be quite demanding. It becomes all the more complex when the caregiver is an elderly person such as the parent or the spouse.
Self-help: This is the time when your patience will be tested to the maximum. Use this opportunity and train yourself to take better control of your emotions. Don’t worry about things you can’t fix, accept the disease, and above all take a deep breath, pause and think before reacting to difficult situations.
Eat and sleep well
Studies have linked informal caregiving to a variety of long-term health problems. Caregivers naturally tend to have lower levels of physical activity, poorer nutrition, and poorer sleep. They may also suffer from physical health problems related to caregiving tasks such as back or muscle injuries.
Self-help: Don’t shy away from self-love, it is just a way of making yourself worthy of caregiving. After all, you cannot draw water from an empty well. Improve your fitness levels by eating right and sleeping well. Even if it sounds almost impossible, working out becomes more crucial when you are a caregiver. That being said, it is important to have a secondary caregiver as a standby in case you happen to fall sick.
Know what you’re dealing with
Try to get as much information as possible about the illness, medication and the side-effects, physiotherapy, diet plan- the more you know, the better would be your care.
Self-help: Be optimistic but at the same time, realistic and know what to expect. Let go of the things you don’t have control over. This will avoid disappointment and frustration, which may reflect on the loved one you care for.
Stay positive and hopeful
As I had mentioned in “The art of caregiving – part I” the positivity of the caregiver has a tremendous impact on the recovery of the sick person. Once the emotional part is taken care of, it’s half the battle won.
Self-help: Talk to positive people, get a warm hug, hope for the best and have a lot of faith. In my experience, faith is one unstoppable force that can make you feel better. Being hopeful is the other word for caregiving. Smile, even if you don’t feel like it sometimes. It makes a world of difference to that one person who matters the most.