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Chronic Illness & Caregiving / Confidence, Self Esteem & Self Care

5 Ways to Take Care of Yourself as a Caregiver

If you have ever flown in an airplane, you may be familiar with this safety instruction.

“In the event of so and so, oxygen masks will drop in front of you. Please put on your masks first before attempting to help anyone else.”

Even if you’ve never been on an airplane, does this instruction seem familiar?

You might believe it’s simple enough to follow. Yet, it isn’t for everyone. For one, those who care about others are prone to disobey this instruction. Why? They might wish to put their loved ones’ safety first. Take parents, for example. In most cases, they may wish to put the mask on their children first before putting it on themselves.

While this is a beautiful expression of affection, consider the dangers.

A father may pass out from a lack of oxygen before succeeding to secure his child’s mask. Both the parent and the child are at risk if this occurs. Do we see the benefit of following this instruction? We do, of course.

Beyond the confines of an airplane, would you believe me if I told you this: that you can still benefit in life by following that basic instruction? Yes, you can. One area you can benefit from applying this information to is caregiving.

Let’s zoom in on this for a moment and see how this information can help those responsible for caring for others.

The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself

Caring for others can be a gratifying experience. Being there for a loved one when they need you is a core value and something most caregivers want to do.

Caregiving, though, can take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being. Stress which can cause burnout afflicts most caregivers. Over time, a caregiver’s health may deteriorate, and their joy diminishes. What can a caregiver do to prevent this?

Remember the airplane safety instruction: “First help yourself, then help others.”? Yes, we can only be effective in helping others if we first help ourselves. An important—and often overlooked — thing caregivers can do is to take care of themselves. Neglecting to do so will only hurt you in the long run.

Consider five things caregivers can do to ensure that they are caring for themselves as they do so for others:

  1. Practice self-compassion. The basis for self-care is being kind to oneself. Give yourself a pat on the back for handling the hard task of caregiving. Maybe you are very critical of your efforts but learn to move away from the critic in you. Instead, give yourself time, if it’s even a few minutes a day, to care for yourself.
  • You might guilt-trip yourself as you practice self-care. If that happens, remember that when you do this, you can focus and be more productive. That ends up benefitting the one you’re caring for as well as yourself.

2. Give yourself needed space and time. No matter how much you love to be of service, know that everyone has a limit. Don’t succumb to burnout by forgetting about your personal needs.

  • When you need to unwind, take a break – even more so when the person you’re caring for has a terminal or chronic illness.
  • Dealing with this can be difficult. You may experience an emotional drain because of your attachment to the sick one. So, look for ways to refill.
  • For example, it’s said that taking deep breaths helps us relax. Why not incorporate this into your routine?
  • When you take time for yourself, you become more attentive to your needs. Once you know these, you can fulfill them. In the end, you’ll end up happier, as will those you care for.

3. Set goals to keep healthy. Caregivers who are sick cannot carry out their duties. You must be in top physical condition to perform at your best. This is another key part of self-care. How can you look after yourself? Set goals for yourself to stay healthy.

  • Getting a good night’s sleep could be one of them. Also, stay active by exercising daily. You will reap rewards that will last a lifetime if you can do so for only ten minutes.
  • Finally, have regular checkups. Professional advice may help point out areas of your health that need care. Our health is vital to our happiness. When we look after it, we can perform better.

4. Engage in enjoyable leisure activities. Reading a good book or taking a warm bath are examples of pleasant leisure activities. When you are a caregiver, remember that it is not wrong to focus on your own wants and desires.

  • Find activities aside from work you’ll enjoy and take part in them. This can ease the stress you might experience while giving care.

5. Maintain social connections. Another way to practice self-care is to keep connected. If you don’t have the company of friends or family to enjoy, you could find a support group. There may be one for caregivers in your community.

  • Keep open channels of communication with your family or friends. Share your feelings and the challenges you face. The support they give can aid you if you have any challenges. It can even prevent you from burning out.

You might work as a professional caregiver or be caring for a loved one. As stated earlier, remember that your dedicated efforts may exhaust you. For this reason, taking steps to recharge your batteries is only prudent. You need to look after yourself as well as those you care for.

Doing so will keep you healthy and happy. It will ensure that your loved ones receive the attention they need. And it will give you the needed energy to carry on with your important work.