Becoming a primary caretaker for a loved one is not unlike becoming a parent for the first time. It’s a journey full of compassion, love, stress, anxiety, humbling moments, and incredibly rewarding moments. To care for another human is the greatest act of love, but it also requires a lot of energy, time, and work. In that light, it can be easy to lose track of your own health and wellbeing as a caretaker...which can have negative impacts on yourself as well as your loved one. Let’s take a look at ten different ways caretakers can take care of themselves, too!
- Get enough sleep. There have literally been so many studies showing how important proper rest is for people; driving while fatigued can be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated! In spite of this, it can be really difficult to be disciplined about getting enough sleep. Whether you’re a morning person or night owl, making sure that you’re rested will work wonders for your ability to be a compassionate, clear-thinking caregiver with patience and energy to spare. Some tips: make sure your room is dark, remove distractions like cell phones or computers, and try to stay on the same routine (even on weekends).
- Run a hot bath. When is the last time you had the time to actually run a bath, light a candle, and relax in the tub? Chances are, this doesn’t happen often at all...which means that it can be a very relaxing experience whenever it does occur. While you may not have time on a regular weekday morning to draw a bath, setting aside 30 minutes during a weekend or weeknight is enough to do the trick...you’ll probably get pruny if you stay in longer than 30 minutes anyway!
- Resolve to take a walk. It’s been said that creativity is inspired by the act of walking, even if you’re walking indoors on a treadmill. Aside from the physical health benefits, walking can help primary caretakers by improving mood, clearing the mind, and drinking in nature’s abundance (assuming you can get outside the city, or find some greenery somewhere).
- Have healthy snacks accessible. It’s no secret that our diets impact our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. When you’re spending so much energy caring for another person, it can be easy to slip into the habit of eating processed, boxed meals, or hitting the drive through on the way home. Making a conscious effort to cut fruits and veggies or prepare meals ahead of time can ensure that nutritious, beneficial snacks are on hand for those times when you’re too tired to cook.
- Practice mindfulness. What is mindfulness, you ask? You can read about it here. Why is it one of the great resources for caretakers? Because mindfulness allows you to relax, destress, and has psychological and physical benefits to your health. The great news is that you can devote as little as five minutes a day (or even just 20 breaths) to practicing mindfulness, and it’s possible for anyone in any stage of life to attempt.
- Do a daily gratitudes exercise. A daily gratitudes exercise is a practice where you write down one thing (or three!) that you are grateful for at the end of each day. Now, on those days that are incredibly difficult (all primary caretakers have them, don’t worry), this may sound hard to do. But it’s a very useful exercise to put your life in perspective. If you stick with the habit long enough, you’ll eventually have quite the collection of blessings to refer to when times get difficult.
- Try something new. Whether it’s yoga, taking a gym class, trying a new recipe, or even reading a book that you would never choose otherwise, trying something new can stimulate you intellectually, emotionally, or physically. This is great for caregivers because full-time care-taking can become monotonous over time, and the experience of something new can be very rejuvenating. It might be just what the doctor ordered!
- Ask for help when you need it. This might be one of the hardest things to do as a caregiver. Asking for help - even with small things - can feel like failure, and many people will continue to work themselves to the bone rather than reach out to other friends and family for assistance. But this can have serious ramifications for both the person receiving in home care, and the person giving it. Knowing when or how to get help will make life substantially easier for all involved.
- Indulge yourself. Whether it’s a glass of wine, a candy bar, a night on the couch watching movies, or buying something small for yourself, be sure to treat yourself to something special every once in a while. Of course, making an indulgence a habit pattern instead of a special treat doesn’t work quite the same way (and can have less-than-desired impacts on your pocketbook or physique), so be sure to enjoy in moderation.
- Know that you are doing a wonderful service. Sometimes, being a primary caretaker is thankless work - which is why we wrote up these tips in the first place! Even if you don’t feel like it, recognize that the work you do for others enhances not just their life, but yours as well...and provides an excellent example for others to follow. With that in mind, pat yourself on the back, and know that other caretakers (like us) are cheering you on and sending encouragement your way!
As mentioned above, being the primary caretaker for another person (whether you’re doing it for pay or for a family member) can be incredibly rewarding, exhausting, happy, and sometimes overwhelming work at times. It’s important to take care of yourself, so that you have more to offer those in your care...which is a win-win for everyone involved. For those times when you do need assistance, please contact Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses to learn how we can help your family...we would love to hear from you! Or visit our blog to learn more about resources for caregivers!
Did you find anything unexpected on this list? What practices do you employ to be the best caretaker possible? Tell us in the comments!