How to Take Care of Yourself when You’re Taking Care of Everyone Else
How many times have you heard “if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be around to take care of anyone else”? And how many times has that made you cringe? You’re thinking “if it was only that easy, no one understands the demands and pressure I’m under.” Well as someone who has been there, I know how quickly caregiving can burn you out.
Caregiver burnout is a very real thing- and can happen to anyone no matter how strong you are or how hard you try. But when it feels like your entire life purpose is taking care of someone else, how is it possible to push yourself to the top of the list?
What is Overwhelming?
Start by recognizing what causes you stress. With caregiving, this list can grow very long very fast. Acknowledge your limits, and separate out the things that overwhelm you and come up with solutions that don’t involve you continuing to dredge through. Ask someone for help, delegate tasks, whatever it is come up with ways to remove that overwhelming stress so that you can begin moving forward.
Find Time for Yourself
Another thing I’m sure you’ve heard too many times. Find time for yourself. But how? There just aren’t enough hours of the day! Thing is, there are, but you need to begin prioritizing yourself and your needs. So, block out an hour or two for yourself. This is going to be hard at first- but I remember just telling myself “the world isn’t going to end in the next hour while I ride my bike.” Try spending this time doing an enjoyable activity. Take a bath, watch a tv show, sip a fancy coffee with a book- find something that you can unwind to. And try and actually unwind- stop the nagging sound of your own voice in your head telling you to just “check in”. Use this time as a refresher- you’ll be a much better caregiver if you yourself are taken care of.
Set Reasonable Goals
Setting reasonable goals can help keep you from stretching yourself too thin. Set yourself monthly, weekly, and daily goals. These shouldn’t be overwhelming tasks, but help keep you feeling on task without feeling overextended. Be honest with yourself and know your limits. Don’t stress if things don’t all get finished- just do as much as you can.
Taking some time each day to get quiet with yourself and set your intentions for the day. This takes practice and it is amazing how hard it is to focus on your breathing and relaxation. I find that some days my mind jumps all over the place and I have to keep reeling myself back into the practice. There are several great apps that you can download to your smart phone to help you get started and test the waters.
Yeah yeah, we all know we should exercise more. But getting a workout in actually increases your sense of wellbeing and can be a great way to get some stress out. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a marathon or walking around the block. Meet yourself where you are, but make it a point to focus on you and your health. Select something that you enjoy. If you are going to a group event, keep in mind that you may put more pressure on yourself by trying to get to a certain class at a certain time. Give yourself permission to do something different if your first option does not fit into your day. The idea is to ease tension not to create another thing for the list.
Something in our caregiver nature keeps us from expressing feelings about our loved ones. And while it is necessary to stay as positive as you can throughout this experience, sometimes you just need to get it out. If you feel guilty talking about your struggles with a loved one or fear they won’t understand try support groups or even the comments section of this post. While it may feel like it at times, you’re not in this alone and sometimes it helps to hear someone else talk about their dad who has started stealing from the local Walmart.
This is another basic along with breathing and drinking water, but 87% of caregivers are not getting enough rest. Sleep is important for many reasons, but especially because sleep deprivation effects mood-regulation, which can increase developing depression. Getting enough sleep also keeps you on your toes. If properly rested, you’re actually able to retain information and perform better. Try to set boundaries and stick to them to the best of your ability. If that means that you create a calendar so the duties are divided to allow each caregiver to get away and rest. Having said that I know there are so many situations where the person needing the care and the caregiver live in the same house. This is where things get complicated. I know this seems like an impossible task, but it is a matter of survival. You have to find help from family, friends, community services, churches etc.
Do what you can to find balance in your life. Connect with friends you may have lost touch with lately. Even a phone call over a cup of coffee can make you smile. People really don’t know how much you need them unless you tell them. As hard as it is to ask for help I would encourage you to give it a shot.