Caregiving is a sacred role. It is extreme love in action. What could be more loving than caring for someone who needs you? You are supporting the needs and wishes of the care recipient and giving back to someone you love. When done properly and mindfully, it can be a beautiful act of love and compassion.
Often the demands of caregiving can challenge the health of the caregiver and aggravate their existing chronic health conditions. Or sometimes, caregivers can develop new health challenges in response to the demands placed upon them. This is especially true of older adults. As a result of extreme demands on their time and energy, caregivers are more likely to neglect their health and less likely to be involved in proactive strategies to maintain it.
As we have learned with anything in life, you need a strategy to offset caregiver stress. This planning and mindfulness will allow you to stay ahead of stress and protect your health and the health of your loved one.
One of the ways in which I coach caregivers is to ask them to have a written plan in a journal or worksheet. When we write down our plan, we are more likely to execute it. If you implement the following strategies, you will be in great shape.
Here are some tips:
Stay up to date with regular check-ups and screenings. This is critical.
Proactively be mindful of your health. Find time daily to be physically active. Make sure that you are getting restful sleep, that you are eating healthy foods and that you are staying hydrated.
Make time to decompress and engage in something you enjoy. Find relaxation techniques that reduce unmanaged stress.
Stay in touch with family and friends, and do things with your loved ones that you enjoy. This social support is important when caregiving.
Be mindful of your emotional and mental health. Are you feeling anxiety or depression? Make sure you manage it with activities that enhance your emotional/mental health.
Get organized. It is important to set a daily routine. You will get into the flow of caregiving, and it will become natural. This is helpful for you and for your loved one, even if it is as simple as completing chores in the morning and enjoying life in the afternoon. Your structure doesn’t need to be exacting, rather, provide predictability during the day.
Ask for and accept help from others. Make a list of things that you would like help with and keep it handy. When others ask what they can do, give them a few things from the list.
Sharpen your skills. You can learn ways to be better at caregiving through classes in the community. You can join a support group to compare notes on how to be a better caregiver.
Tap into community resources for adult daycare or respite services to provide a break from caregiving duties.
Be happy, healthy and take this time to enjoy all the goodness and joy that life has to offer.
Laura Nissen is an Alzheimer’s Association volunteer who advocates for those with memory disorders. She works with families to help them learn the skills of caregiving. She also serves as a community educator, caregiver support group leader and Memory Café leader for the Alzheimer’s Association.