When you are taking care of a loved one, whether it's an aging parent or an incapacitated adult sibling, you are among a rapidly growing group of Americans. According to a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP in 2015, 34.2 million Americans provided care to an adult over the age of 50 in the previous 12 months. It's referred to as an "informal" caregiver, essentially meaning you do it without being paid.
The first thing you need to do is recognize your role. You're a caregiver. Just because you're caring for a family member doesn't negate the fact that you are a caregiver. It may not be your full-time job and you may feel like it's just something you do for family rather than an official role. But you need to see the importance and value of what you are providing.
Now that you understand that what you do has a name, the next thing you need to do is realize the significance of self-care. In order to best provide care for your family member, you need to take care of yourself. Below are some tips on how to manage self-care while caring for others.
1. Make sure to see your own doctor: When you feel like a good portion of your week is spent scheduling doctor's appointments or traveling to and from appointments for your loved one, the last thing you want to do is make another doctor appointment for yourself. But maintaining your own health is always important. Your health shouldn't be sacrificed in order to help your loved one. Staying healthy is imperative.
2. Make time to connect with friends and family: You are busy. From your day job to taking care of your loved one, there aren't enough hours in the day. So it's easy to turn down offers to socialize. Making an effort to connect with other friends and family will help you maintain balance and lift your spirits. Being a caregiver is an exhausting role, and ensuring that you make time for yourself and others you love will go a long way in staying positive.
3. Don't feel bad about feeling bad: Maybe you felt like you weren't patient enough. Or you were feeling overwhelmed with the duties of your caregiver role. Even though the person you are caring for is someone you love, it doesn't take away from the stress you endure. It's ok to feel bad sometimes. It doesn't make you a bad person. What you're doing is a tough and selfless thing, and it's important to remember that.
4. Seek support: Whether it's a traditional support group or knowing when to call in additional resources, understanding that you are not alone is imperative. Providing care for someone is a comprehensive process. It often includes finances, healthcare and elder law matters, just to name a few. You can't be expected to be an expert in all of them, so reaching out to those who are is a wise choice.
5. Don't turn down help: When a trusted neighbor offers to take your loved one for a daily walk so that you can get some time to yourself, you might initially want to refuse because you feel guilty. It's your loved one, so it's your duty. But many people genuinely care about you and want to help you, just like you want to help your loved one. So when an offer of assistance arises, it's ok to take them up on it.
Taking care of yourself should be considered a priority, not just something you fit in when your scheduled allows. What you are doing as a caregiver is important in addition to selfless. Make sure you are kind to yourself as well.