Help for Healing

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Caregivers Must Take Care of Themselves, Too

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Caregiving is one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs you can have. Taking care of a family member who needs it is important and demanding work. But many caregivers have a hard time taking care of themselves in the process. Your self-care is as important as your care for your charge. After all, if you’re not there, you won’t be able to care for someone else.

More than 39 million Americans provide unpaid care to family members and loved ones. Most of them have little to no help from family members, meaning they take on the role alone. This can leave them feeling isolated and alone, and it can cause a higher mortality rate. A caregiving spouse has a 63 percent higher likelihood of dying than other people in the same age group.

When we are caring for someone else, we are less likely to care for ourselves. We skip doctor’s appointments, forego exercise and eat on the run. That means our health fades, taking our independence along with it. But practicing a little self-care can go a long way in making our lives longer and more enjoyable.

Here are some ways to get a little extra self-care into our lives.

1. Get more sleep. We know that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. The constant worry can get in the way of your sleep, leaving you tired and grouchy the next day. You may even have to go to a full-time job the next day, adding to your tiredness. Try to get to bed a little earlier each night. Even if you have to wake up early, you’ll appreciate that extra 30 minutes of sleep you got in the evening.

2. Eat better. Take some time to think about the way you are eating. How can it get better? Would it help to plan your meals on Sunday for the following week? Could you do some cooking on Sunday and portion out meals for the week? Can you try to get an extra vegetable in each meal, or snack on fruit instead of candy? Even if you’re only able to make one small change, it can help you feel better.

3. Exercise. Another task that might seem impossible, exercise is one of those things we put off when we’re busy. Try to get out for a walk daily. Even if you can only go for 15 minutes at a time, it will add up. Can you put your loved one in a wheelchair and walk around the block or through a mall? Can you ask for help from a family member while you take a break? Can you get some in-home support from a nurse or other qualified caregiver? Even if you need to stay indoors, there are several different exercises you can do at home, including step and strength exercises that don’t require any special equipment. 

4. Practice self-care. Many people overlook the importance of self-care. Instead of being indulgent, self-care is simply about addressing things that are happening in your life and protecting your overall well-being. This could be anything from taking a half-hour to read a book you’re interested in or hiring someone to handle a task that requires too much of your time and energy at the moment. Don’t have the energy to mow the lawn? Look into lawn care services that can keep everything looking good until you’re ready to tackle it on your own.

5. Get support. Look for a caregiver support group in your community. Meeting with other caregivers who are in similar situations will help give you some perspective about your life. It will help you connect with people who know what you’re going through, and it will help you find needed resources through recommendations from friends. Also, look into working with a professional Darcy Thiel who can help you prepare for everything that caregiving entails.

Just remember that your life matters, too. Speak up for yourself, and ask for help when you need it. Spend some quality time with your loved one because this is the time to make a connection. Later, you’ll look back on this time as a special part of your life.

Author: Help for Healing

My name is Darcy Thiel. What people say they appreciate most about me is my genuine nature. I utilize my professional and personal experiences to increase my understanding and compassion to help others. My career has many faces, so let me tell you about a few. I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in NY State and am a couple and family therapist. As an Adult Planning Specialist and End of Life Doula, I take my experiences with my parents’ and husband's illnesses and passing to help others navigate the crazy, complicated medical world we live in. This dovetails with the books I have written. Bitter and Sweet: A Family’s Journey with Cancer, the prequel to Life After Death, on This Side of Heaven is an honest and raw perspective on coping with the diagnosis and subsequent loss of Tim, my spouse. I have done extensive speaking on the above topics through live audiences, radio shows, and an occasional TV spot. For more information, see my websites at www.marriageandfamilycounseling.net, www.babycooppublishing.com, or www.darcythiel.com. Copyright Help for Healing by Darcy Thiel © 2012-2019. All rights reserved.

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