You may not think of yourself as a caregiver, but anyone who helps someone else because that person is no longer able to manage some or all of the activities of daily life is considered a caregiver. Whether the caregiver is a relative, spouse, friend, neighbor, volunteer, or medical professional, it is important to identify the caregiver role.
Your journey in the caregiving role may include a wide variety of experiences. While there are often many intrinsic benefits to caregiving – spending time with a cherished loved one, feeling needed, the opportunity to serve – there may also be challenges and special considerations you must take.
Your role as a caregiver is very important, as another individual depends on you. If your well-being suffers, you may become unable to care for another. So, if you’ve accepted the caregiver role, you also have a special responsibility to take care of yourself. That means assessing and taking care of your own physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, interpersonal, and financial needs. When you have attended to your own needs, you will have so much more to give to the person you’re caring for.
Your Physical Health
Physical health is a key caregiver concern. This begins with adequate rest every night. If this is not always possible, then try to fit in naps or break periods during the day. A regular bedtime and a light snack or warm milk may help you fall asleep. Beyond daily rest, you may need periodic breaks from caregiving, and you can plan for a period of respite, such as a long weekend. Discuss this option with a member of your hospice team.
Physical exercise is also important. Regular exercise, for instance, will strengthen you for the rigors of caring for another who needs assistance with their own movement. Generally, physical exercise will help you rest better. It is recommended that you aim for a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise four times a week. Fresh air and sunshine can also lift your spirits, and nature is a great healer.
Good nutrition will facilitate your own health and vigor and support a healthy immune system. If you receive offers of help from others during this time, request a nutritious meal – it is a simple way for others to support you. Any physical illness or healthcare needs should be attended to promptly in order to shorten your recovery time.
Emotional health is closely related to overall health, but may be overlooked. Caregivers experience the full range of human emotions – including anger, guilt, impatience, depression, helplessness, love, loneliness, and isolation – sometimes all at the same time.
At times you may tell yourself that some of these feelings are “good” and others “bad.” Rather than label them, it is important to know that all these feelings are normal. Acknowledge your feelings. Accept them. Realize that your situation is not unique and many other caregivers share these feelings.
It may help to have a close friend or confidant you can call daily. It helps to talk to another person so you don’t become overwhelmed. You might choose to create a list of people you can call. Remember, your Kinder Hearts team is also available to listen and act as a resource for emotional support – we are here not only for the patient but for family and caregivers as well.
Due to the number of tasks that need to be completed, stress is almost inevitable in caregiving, and it is often compounded by inadequate rest. While there is often little to be done to change the circumstances creating stress, there are many ways to cope with it.
The following are some suggestions to help alleviate some of your stress:
- Keep a journal or diary. Writing about your feelings can reduce stress.
- Read a book or listen to music. These activities provide a pleasurable diversion.
- Take a long, relaxing bath with bath salts or aromatic oils.
- Consider getting a therapeutic massage; even a backrub from a friend can help.
- Listen to relaxation tapes – you can find them at a public library.
- Exercise. Physical activity naturally produces chemicals in the body that help reduce tension, anxiety and depression.
- Stay focused in the present moment. Don’t fret about work when you are caregiving or worry about your loved one when you are away.
- Take a few moments in nature to lift your spirits.
- Stroke or brush a pet – this is a therapeutic activity for you and the patient.
- Laughter is healing –watch a funny movie or read a humorous book.
- Pursue a creative outlet or enjoy a hobby, such as playing a musical instrument, singing, sketching or painting, or writing a short poem. These activities can do much to relieve stress and express emotions.
- Perform spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation or inspirational reading.
- Join a support group.
- When offered time off, take it without guilt or worry. The break will refresh you and help you be a better caregiver.
Spirituality is highly personal, widely defined, and important to many individuals. Some find their time as a caregiver reinforces and strengthens their spirituality. Others may be challenged to find the time to participate in their previous spiritual or religious practices while busy with the demands of caregiving. If your personal spirituality is important to you, you may need to temporarily adjust your caregiving. You might add a regular quiet time to your day for prayer, contemplation, or meditation. Time spent in nature can be rejuvenating. Inspirational reading or music may help you stay connected to your spiritual source. Your Kinder Hearts Hospice chaplain is available to talk to you and direct you toward helpful resources.
Making It Happen
Who has time for all of this? Keep in mind that one activity may help to achieve balance in your life. For example, a walk with a friend provides physical exercise and social interaction and is emotionally and spiritually uplifting. Hobby groups may relieve stress and allow you to discuss current events. Singing in a choir provides a change of scenery, a creative outlet, and social contact.
The most important thing is to begin. It may be difficult to make many changes all at once, so select at least one or two areas to work on right away. Set a realistic goal for yourself to maintain your own well-being and regain a sense of control and balance. Kinder Hearts Hospice team members know all about the caregiver role and can help you through any challenges you may encounter during this journey. Don’t hesitate to use them as your own resource.