How to Maintain Your Health when Caring for Sick Loved Ones
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Consider what is stopping you from caring for your own needs. Culturally, it’s more acceptable to put the needs of others first. However, when it comes to being a caregiver, sometimes you need to take care of yourself. Part of that is figuring out what is stopping you from caring for yourself.
For instance, you may feel selfish for putting your needs first. However, if you make yourself sick, what good will that do for the person you’re caring for?
Maybe you have trouble asking for help, meaning you take on the full burden of caring for the person. However, everyone nTaking Care of Your Emotional and Social Need
when it comes to caregiving, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Give yourself permission to put your needs first at times, so you can be helpful to your loved one.
Work through your feelings. Everyone has a range of emotions when it comes to caring for a loved one. Guilt, remorse, grief, resentment, anger, and anxiety are all common emotions, and it’s important to acknowledge and accept those feelings. It’s also a good idea to find someone you can talk to about them, who’s willing to listen to what you’re going through without judgment.
Consider seeing a therapist with whom you can process the emotional toll of caregiving.
Find others in the same situation. Reach out to other caregivers, such as in a caregiver support group. Just listening to others’ stories and telling your own can make you feel better. You’re not alone in this situation. Others are going through it, too, and they can help support you through it.
If you don’t have time to go to an in-person group, consider finding one online. You can check in whenever you have the time.
Take care of your spiritual side as needed. If you usually have an active spiritual life, try to nurture that side through prayer, meditation, or whatever you like to do. Generally, if you neglect a spiritual practice you normally do, it can make you feel unbalanced or out-of-sorts.
If you don’t pray or meditate, consider taking a few moments out of each day for yourself, just to sit quietly or even write in a journal, so you get in touch with how you are feeling.
Find a way to relax. You need to take a bit of time each day doing something you enjoy that relaxes you. Doing so will help you maintain your sanity and health. Plus, if you’re more relaxed, you’ll make a better caregiver. Just find something small that you enjoy, and try to incorporate it into your day.
Maybe your break could be a short walk outdoors or a few minutes spent doodling.
Spend some time with people you enjoy. Sometimes, you just need to hang out with your friends and have a good laugh. If you can, try to take a break to go out with your friends or family. You’ll be able to feel more like yourself, instead of just a perpetual caregiver.
Taking Care of Yourself Physically
Set limits. Only you know how much of your time and yourself you can give to caregiving. That means it’s important for you to set limits with yourself. You also need to express those limits with doctors, nurses, and other caregivers, so they’re aware of when you will and when you won’t be there.
Eat well. In a time when things seem out of control, you may neglect to focus on good eating habits. You may not eat much, or you may end up eating junk food. Both of those put a strain on you. Try to eat as healthy as you can, even if you have to order food in sometimes or rely on simple meals like salads.
Remember to include lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and veggies in your diet.
Try to get enough sleep. Sleep can also be difficult when you’re caring for a loved one. You may be too worried to sleep at times, or the task of caregiving may interrupt your sleep. However, try to get as much as you can, aiming for a regular 7 to 9 hours a day, even if you have to do it in smaller chunks. Not getting enough sleep can put a strain on your health, plus it will make you less effective as a caregiver.
Take time to exercise. Exercising will also help you maintain your health while you’re caring for a loved one. As an added bonus, it can reduce your stress level. However, it can be difficult when you are caregiving, so you’ll need to find ways to work it into your schedule.
For instance, maybe you can take a short walk a couple of times a day. You could also do yoga at home or try jumping rope.
You could also ask someone to come sit with your loved one while you take an hour or so to go exercise. That way, you get a much-needed break, plus the exercise you need.
Don’t neglect signs of illness in yourself. It can be easy to overlook signs of health problems in yourself when you’re caring for someone else. However, if you become sick, you won’t be able to help your loved one, so it’s best to stay on top of health problems. In fact, the best plan is to maintain your regular doctor’s visits and dental checkups to make sure you’re in good health.
Figure out what your loved one needs. Before you can ask for help caring for a loved one, you need to figure out where others can plug in. Take some time to list everything that needs to be done to care for your loved one. Try not to leave anything out.
After you make the list, think carefully about what you can realistically do on your own without burning out. Now, look at what others could do to take the burden off of you.
Ask people for help. Remember that you cannot do it all. It is okay to ask for help. Most of the time, people want to help in whatever way they can. However, they may need help figuring out what you and your loved one need. Talk to each person (friends and family) individually to help get your needs covered.
You could say, “I know you care about Jane. I was wondering if you’d be able to help out a bit. I could really use someone to bring dinner some nights.”
Try to offer a task to the person that fits with their skills. Alternatively, ask them what they’d like to do to help, especially if they offer.
Get professional help. If your loved one has a long-term serious illness, professional help is often needed. Respite care is a great option for getting help and giving yourself a break from time to time. Maybe your loved one needs to be in a long-term care facility or spend time at an adult daycare a few days per week that has the capability of providing care for your loved one. Maybe you will keep your loved one at home, but you’ll need to hire help to come over and provide some care for your loved one. Either way, having a professional around can help take some of the burden off of you.
Some communities offer volunteer respite care workers who can come and care for your loved one for a few hours so that you can take a break. You can learn more about respite care for older adults through your local Area Agency on Aging.
When considering professional help, you may need to do some persuading when it comes to your loved one. That is, some people don’t like the idea of having outside help. However, most people will concede when they realize that you can’t do everything yourself. If your loved one is particularly against the idea, you may need to have someone who’s been in the same situation (as a caregiver or a professional) come talk to the person.
When deciding who to hire, first look at the kind of care you need help with. For instance, you may need non-medical assistance, to provide things like bathroom assistance and even things like cooking and cleaning. Medical care, such as home healthcare, helps with things like providing medications and need to be ordered by a doctor.
Some in-home health may be covered by programs like Medicare. Make sure you ask what your insurance covers when looking for professional help.
If your loved one is suffering from a terminal illness, hospice may be a good option for you, which can provide care for your loved one, if he or she has 6 months or less to live.
Look at free options for care. Many community services provide some type of care for people who are ill, particularly if they are ill or homebound. For instance, many communities have meal delivery services, such as Meals-On-Wheels, at no cost to the person to help you feed them.
Also, consider organizations the person is associated with. For instance, veterans may be entitled to some benefits. Members of Elk and Mason lodges may have some care provided. Also, church members are often willing to step up when members need care. Don’t be afraid to look at all your resources.
Put your energy into the most essential tasks. That is, consider which tasks you could find ways of not doing yourself, such as ordering meals in or hiring a cleaning service. These services wouldn’t require people coming in as much as professional caregiving help, but they would help relieve some of the pressure on you.