Over 43 million caregivers are caring for loved ones who are over 50 years old or older. About 80% report high levels of stress, and one in five says at least some aspect of his/her life has worsened.* While it is very fulfilling to help and give back, caregiving can affect your health, finances, job, relationships and personal goals. As a loved one’s health condition changes, so do the commitment and responsibility. You’re doing all this out of love, but you can’t do it all. Take a breath and moment to review some helpful suggestions to care for the caregiver—you.
- Focus on your well-being too. Eat well, get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, fit in exercise, take frequent breaks to relieve stress (even if you don’t feel stressed), follow through on scheduled doctors’ appointments, reflect on the positive qualities in your life and seek humor in certain situations.
- Find an outlet, make time for hobbies, pursue a passion, follow your faith.
- Know your limits and welcome others’ offers to help. If they don’t offer, ask. And be OK with asking. Sometimes others may perceive you don’t need—or want—help since you appear to have it under control. It’s brave to attempt to do it all yourself; it’s braver to realize when you need a hand.
- Then, when you’ve mastered that, begin divvying up responsibilities among family members (if possible) and delegate smaller, but time-consuming tasks to friends, neighbors or fellow parishioners. Share the care.
- Continue to connect with others. Consider joining a support group. There is great solace in hearing firsthand you are not alone.
- Keep a gratitude journal and detail things you are looking forward to so you can read and re-read when needed.
- Seek community resources such as faith-based programs, adult day care, respite care, temporary paid help and retirement communities.
- Acknowledge your feelings—even the negative ones (anger, frustration, impatience, resentment, guilt). Then forgive yourself and let yourself grieve the loss of your original relationship and the change in roles. Process this new dynamic and find new ways to connect with your loved one.
- Accept things will change. Be flexible, resourceful and mindfully ready. The only things you can control are your actions.
- Remember above all: you have to care for yourself to care for others.
*Source: National Alliance for Caregivers and AARP’s “Caregivers: Life Changes and Coping Strategies,” November 2013.