“You cannot pour out of an empty cup” this saying captures vividly the need for family caregivers to practice self-care consistently. Many caregivers pour out of their lives in every way possible to provide the best care and support they possibly can for their family members. All too often though, we pour out but we do not refill. As we deplete, it eventually becomes frustrating for us and for the ones we care for. Continued that way, doesn’t stop at frustration but ends up in compromised physical and mental health of the caregiver. A situation that does not augur well for the care recipient either.
One of the reasons family caregivers do not give adequate time for self-care is the feeling that their own needs are less important or less significant than those of their care recipients. This feeling creates false caregiver guilt. Self-care is not selfish and could be one of the best things that you do both for your care-recipient and yourself.
Self- Care Basics:
When thinking self-care it’s easy to forget the basics and jump straight to the big things on our wish lists like a long vacation in an exotic location. Taking a rare shot in the arm approach to self-care if the basics have been ignored is ineffective, unsustainable and frustrating. Self-care is different for different people but the basics of self-care involve feeding your spirit, soul and body and are the same for all people:-
- Eat nutritious meals. Be aware of the tendency to indulge in comfort food, to eat inconsistently or to not eat all and instead nourish your body with wholesome meals.
- Drink …water! Enough of it daily because hydration affects your mood, energy, brain functioning and ability to focus.
- Sleep enough as this is key for your physical and mental health. It also affects your ability to learn, think and remember.
- Connect with others …. It is a basic human need. Talking to another person face to face reduces isolation and boosts your mood. Caregiver support groups are a great way to connect with people who get you. Connecting with others includes connecting with God.
- Exercise regularly not only because it has an impact on your physical health but it also triggers your happy hormones (endorphins). Even a simple 15 minute walk daily can make a big difference.
Practicing the basics consistently is very important in maintaining caregiver wellbeing.
Building on the Basics:
Get to understand yourself and how you are wired as it will go a long way to making adjustments along your caregiver journey and to finding the self-care activities that work for you. Comparing notes with other caregivers to learn from each other is healthy. That said, recognising that everyone is different even if similar helps to keep you from comparing yourself to other caregivers who seem to be coping better in a way that triggers a sense of failure and guilt in you
Recognise and accept your feelings. One of the biggest frustrations about caregiving is not being able to put a finger to what you are going through and as a result not being able to handle it well.
Know your new limits because caregiving has changed some things. Perhaps even changed many things for you. Processing the losses that come with caregiving to the point of acceptance helps you to redefine new limits of what you can and cannot do. It also helps you to set healthy boundaries.
Set reasonable goals. Accept that you are human and have flaws and limitations. This will help you to work at being a better caregiver rather than the futility of trying to be a perfect caregiver.
Be purposeful in your relationship with your care recipient. Sometimes caregiving can be such an immersing role that our relationship with the care recipient as daughter, son, spouse, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, friend and so on can get lost and forgotten. That unprocessed loss of relationship brings with it grief and depression.
Take care of your personal health. Many caregivers suffer from deteriorating health because of the physical and mental toll of caregiving. Sometimes the financial constraints mean there is barely enough to take care of the family members who are unwell therefore taking care of the caregivers health is pushed even further back. In some cases, finances may not be an issue but caregivers have lowered personal needs and feel their own needs are insignificant or less significant than those of their care recipients.
Get help: Caregivers need help but many caregivers don’t ask for or accept help. Caregivers need help but many people around them do not know the kind of help they need. Get help to enable you manage overwhelming tasks, take time out, attend to other duties and find information that you need. Help can also be in the form of counselling, caregiver education and professional therapy.
Find/form a support group that can walk the caregiving journey with you. There are different types of support groups and you can join or form a support group that meets your specific needs.
Give yourself credit & be kind to yourself: Caregivers are often very hard on themselves because of the weight of responsibility and the pressure to be perfect. They therefore tend to get stuck on what they ought to have done better. Appreciate the impact of what you’re doing and the difference you are making in the life of another, be kind to yourself, allow yourself to be human and forgive yourself when you make mistakes.