Caring for our loved ones can be one of the most meaningful and precious acts we can do. But it can also be physically exhausting and emotionally demanding, especially if you’re juggling other jobs and responsibilities.
And when you’re devoting time, energy and resources in caring for a loved one, it’s easy to neglect your own needs. And with limited time, you’re probably less likely to see a doctor or prioritize medical appointments and health needs.
Research shows that caregiving can increase the risk of depression and anxiety as well. Older caregivers, especially, have a higher risk of health problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight, and earlier death due to prolonged stress and the demands the responsibility entails.
And this is why it is so important for caregivers to have a regular routine of self-care.
Since time and energy are often limited, here are 5 easy and practical steps caregivers can take to fit in self-care on a consistent basis.
- Get some Exercise: No, don’t skip ahead. Please hear us out. I know it sounds like the absolute last thing you want to do (or think about!) when you feel completely exhausted, caring for a loved one. But this is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Start small, with 20-30 minutes, at least three times a week. Perhaps schedule your workout with a friend, who can serve as your accountability partner and supporter. Also, try exercises that will make you feel more relaxed, like walking, dancing, or stretching.
- Take Regular Breaks: It’s a good idea to take 20-30 minute breaks at least once or twice during the day. If you are caring for someone that requires 24-hour care, then see if you can have another family member, volunteer, or a professional caregiver come in to relieve you during your breaks. Consider taking a full day off or going for a short vacation (or staycation). While on break, do something you enjoy and try to engage in conversation about things other than your caregiver duties. Doing all this will help refresh you.
- Laugh Often: When the days are difficult, a sense of humor can go a long way. Try reading something funny or watch funny videos or a hilarious movie. Try to look for funny moments and share with the loved one you are caring for. Humour will help to ease stress, tension and anxiety - it truly can be the best medicine.
- Stay connected with Friends: As a caregiver, it can be easy to isolate yourself. You're busy and when you are not occupied, you’re likely tired, perhaps with little interest in socializing. Even though you may feel tired or down at times, it’s vital to stay connected to friends who support you. It’s scientifically proven that a good support network will help improve your outlook and health. And if you are not able to get out with friends every day, perhaps take time to e-mail or phone some friends for a catch up.
- Eat a balanced diet: When you are looking after a loved one, it could be easy to grab quick meals, and maybe even fast foods. But endeavoring to eat healthy, nutritious food is one of the best ways to maintain your health and improve your energy. Try substituting sugar and processed foods with smoothies, soup, steamed vegetables and lean protein sources. When you can, prepare extra food and freeze it. Perhaps you can ask a family member or friend to help you with this.