Caregiving can be a rewarding experience that provides a sense of fulfillment, meaning and purpose, especially when you know that your care makes a positive difference.
Yet caregivers report higher levels of stress than do people who are not caregivers. It’s important for caregivers to know that they, too, need help and support.
So, let’s talk about you. Because taking care of yourself is the most important step in caregiving.
Be a Great Caregiver by Maintaining a Healthy Balance
The emotional and physical demands of caregiving can strain even the strongest person. At times you may feel physically tired and heavy. You may feel the stress of your role mentally, feeling fearful, irritable, guilty, and conflicted. Know that you are not alone in these feelings and that this is perfectly natural. When not addressed, though, these feelings can lead to caregiver burnout. Here are our tips to help you manage caregiver stress.
1. Prioritize Your Health
Just as we are instructed to do in case of emergency on an airplane, put your own mask on first. This refers not only to your literal coronavirus mask, but also the metaphorical mask of self-care, self-forgiveness, and rejuvenation.
If self-care is a foreign concept to you, start by asking yourself: What is my biggest struggle in caregiving? What would help me the most right now? Be as specific and honest as you can. Then, make a plan, starting with small acts of self-care whenever possible.
Here are some strategies to try:
- Schedule it. Often, self-care is pushed aside because it has no specific date and time. Block off time in your calendar. Start with 30 minutes, then build up to an hour and treat it like you would an important appointment.
- Show compassion … to yourself. Apply the compassion you share with your loved one or care-receiver to yourself. Practice words of encouragement like, “You’ve got this!” and “My best is enough.”
- Prioritize sleep. To serve others, it is critical that you re-charge through rest. If you have difficulty falling asleep, try breathing deeply into your lower abdomen while mentally thinking of things you’re grateful for. To boost your chances of getting the shut-eye you need, improve your sleep hygiene by reading our tips for a good night sleep.
- Move your body each day. Go for a walk if the weather allows. If not, moving about indoors and stretching for 10 minutes a day, will significantly increase your ability to cope. Plus, you’ll just feel better afterwards!
- Improve your nutrition. Food, mood and energy levels are intricately linked, so it’s key to eat a healthy diet. Focus on mostly plant-based foods, as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide.
- Express your feelings. When you’re stressed out, frustrated or depressed, writing in a journal can help you deal with your emotions. (If you’re struggling, consider seeking counselling.)
- Treat yourself. Enjoy life’s little pleasures like reading, listening to music, painting or doing crafts, playing an instrument, taking a long bath. Find-and schedule-the time to do things that make you happy.
- Ask for help. If you feel overwhelmed seek help from other family members, friends, and community organizations.
It’s also important that you take care of your mental health. Click here to read our blog about minding your mental health, especially during the fall and winter months.
2. Set Boundaries
Whether you’re providing hands-on care or managing care decisions, setting boundaries can be difficult. However, boundaries are a sign of self-respect and allow people to continue caring with compassion and devotion rather than feel overwhelmed by the role.
First, work through what aspects of caregiving you wish to take responsibility for and what your personal overall health needs are so that you can establish clear boundaries.
You may have to ask yourself what you can reasonably do as a caregiver:
- How much time can you dedicate?
- How much energy do you have?
Be realistic. You can’t do it all. If you find that you have too many tasks on your plate, get a piece of paper and create two columns. On one side, make a list of tasks that you can keep doing without burning out. On the other, write down tasks that could be handled by someone else.
Once you’ve clarified your boundaries, communicate them to those under your care in a firm and honest manner. Now-stay the course, no matter how difficult.
For additional information, read the Public Health Agency of Canada’s guidelines for caregivers during stressful events.
3. Get Your Own Support
As a caregiver, you’re used to being someone else’s support. But who do you turn to for emotional support?
Many hospitals, health care plans, and community organizations offer support groups for caregivers. Support groups are a good place to vent your feelings and share ideas with people who are facing similar situations. If you don’t have access to support groups, weekly phone calls with a trusted friend can be helpful. Set up a family group chat.
If you find that the job is taking a toll on your mental health, speak with a therapist or call the caregiver hotline.
4. Consider A Respite Stay To Rest And Recharge
For the 1 in 4 Canadians caring for a loved one, respite stays allows them to take a break from caregiving. Respite care provides an opportunity for caregivers to take time for themselves, allowing them to maintain their sense of identity outside the caregiving role.
Once alternative arrangements have been made for the care of their loved one, the caregiver can book a respite stay for themselves. These short stays are an opportunity for the caregiver to recharge, while participating in all the health and wellness activities that the residence offers. Don’t be surprised if you decide that you love the lifestyle too much to leave!
5. Share the Role
If you’re overwhelmed with your caregiving duties, it might be best to share the responsibility with others. This could mean moving your loved one into an All Seniors Care community. You could find a retirement residence in Ontario with assisted living, memory care, or full-time care services. You would still be involved, but the physical demands of taking care of your loved one wouldn’t be entirely on your shoulders.
Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect caregiver. Focus on this day and the small moments, tears, laughter, miscommunications, and small kindnesses that accompany this important role you fill. Be gentle with yourself and know that asking for help can be the most meaningful and courageous step you ever make.
Take steps to maintain a healthy life balance. Whenever your caregiving duties are getting to be too much for you, All Seniors Care can help by sharing the load.
Writer – Julianna McLeod
Julianna is a health and wellness expert at All Seniors Care. Her mission is to create content that empowers seniors to form sustainable solutions for lasting health and happiness. She is an experienced writer, editor, and Recreational Therapist living in Toronto.