With all the personal and work-related distress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, taking good care of yourself is more important than ever, especially for caregivers.
A caregiver could be a parent, child or other family member who must attend to the day-to-day needs of a loved one. For example, it could be parents taking care of their children, an adult child supporting a parent with dementia, or someone in the “sandwich generation” looking after both a parent and child.
Caregivers are busy caring for others and often put their own needs on the back burner. The pandemic has added it own complexities to the situation, making it challenging to look after family needs while locked down, managing work from home, perhaps helping kids learn remotely, etc. It’s easy to lose focus and not take care of yourself when you’re busy caring for others, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Over time, a caregiver may burn out from all the stress and experience symptoms like fatigue, sleeplessness, changes in weight and social isolation.
The importance of self care for caregivers
When you’re a caregiver and tending to the needs of family members or other loved ones, the challenges of self care increase. Not only must you try to look after your own health, but you’re also accountable for the wellbeing of others.
“Self care” is exactly what it sounds like: taking care of yourself. While many people tend to think of self care only in relation to physical wellbeing, it also includes emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
When you commit to a consistent, all-inclusive regimen of self care, the benefits may include being healthier, as well as becoming happier, more resilient and better able to handle stress.
Practice self care by taking a methodical approach. Try focusing initially on one action from the suggestions listed below. For example, go to bed at the same time every night for a week. Once those actions feel comfortable and “natural” to you, start incorporating others gradually.
Self care for caregivers
Since the notion of self care encompasses many aspects of life, self-care actions are also wide ranging:
- Physical self care includes regular exercise and activity, eating foods that nourish and fuel your body, maintaining good hygiene and getting adequate sleep and rest. Practice going to bed at the same time on a nightly basis. Engaging in exercise for 15 to 20 minutes a day will improve your mood and support stress relief. A simple way is take a short walk each day.
- Emotional and mental self care includes staying in touch with family and friends, being engaged in work, keeping a positive attitude in trying times and sharing your feelings with people you trust. Remaining socially connected makes you feel less isolated and helps you realize you’re not alone. Knowing that others may be going through similar experiences nurtures your ability to be more self compassionate.
- Spiritual self care includes attending religious services, spending time in meditation or prayer, appreciating the beauty of nature and living with gratitude. Make a list of who makes you grateful, and why. Refer to this list whenever you need your spirits lifted.
More self-care tips
- Practicing self compassion by being kind to yourself is essential. Self compassion means understanding it’s okay to attend to your own needs, and giving yourself the time to do so. This allows you to remain focused and balanced, and improve your effectiveness. You’ll have more energy to take care of your loved one.
- Awareness is the first step to achieving better self care. It’s also important to prioritize your own health because you will succeed as a caregiver only if you have enough physical and mental strength to do the job. Make note of your fatigue and energy levels, and take mental and physical breaks. Practice breathing exercises for 10 minutes a day by closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. Focus your mind and attention on your breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose and hold for a count of five, and then exhale for a count of five. Continue for about 10 minutes.
In addition to the self-care actions mentioned above, you can improve your self-care efforts by taking a pause (where possible) from caregiving, even if only for short periods at a time. Stepping away from the situation and sharing the duties with others may help you recharge and address your own care needs.
Self-care is an important activity to practice on a daily basis. The result will be better balance and improved overall health and wellness for all parties.