Self-care for Caregivers

The importance of taking care of yourself

This article is dedicated to tips on self-care for caregivers. As caregivers, we often forget to take care of ourselves because we spend so much time caring for our loved ones or patients. Check out the following tips for help.

Find community

This is a must: finding a community that will listen to you, sustain you and cradle you with care as you give care to your loved one. Yes, I know that you can’t imagine adding more to your already full agenda. Yet, it is a must!

Support groups can be a gateway to community and today they come in many forms. You may find such groups through churches, hospitals, libraries and local service organizations. City, county, state and national agencies also guide people to support groups. Advocacy networks now focus on a huge range of physical and mental challenges—and may recommend local support groups as well. The best groups are eager to help new families connect with experienced families, which can build healthy community.

Most importantly, support groups maintain interpersonal contact among their members—meeting regularly and giving everyone an opportunity to talk.

Ask around your town about the range of support groups available. You may not like one group’s format, but may discover that a second group is ideal. Membership in some support groups is formally controlled with admission requirements and membership fees. Other groups are “open” and allow anyone to attend advertised meetings or to participate in an online forum.

The Internet has provided an important new venue for support groups, but here’s a word of caution: It is not difficult to find a local or an online support group, but it may be difficult to find a good one. Some online groups are run by pharmaceutical or medical-supply companies promoting a particular product. Some websites are not properly moderated and can turn into a Wild West of interactions.

Before committing to any support group, see how it feels to you and ask local people you trust for advice: doctors, pastors, teachers, therapists—even local newspaper websites often list trusted groups.

Take time for yourself

An essential counterbalance to our work as caregivers and our time within community is solitude.

Solitude can be found in many forms: meditating on a flower; basking in a sunset or sunrise; dancing alone in the rain; reading a good book; writing in a diary or journal; relaxing in a warm, soaking bath with candles and soft music; taking long walks in a forest or grassy field. The list is endless and the choice is individual.

Solitude restores us emotionally, spiritually and physically to face the rest of our lives.

Pay attention to your body

As a caregiver, how do you take care of your own body? Do you get a physical assessment regularly? Do you eat well, exercise regularly and rest adequately? Caregiving is demanding, stressful and time consuming. No one needs to tell you that. You also know that saying, “It’s too hard,” is never an acceptable excuse.

Start simple. Don’t charge down the pathway toward physical fitness by purchasing a room full of exercise equipment. Start with a daily walk. Don’t map out a diet for the rest of the year. Start with simple steps: Drink one glass of water before every meal or snack, or have a sweet or salty snack only after you eat a piece of fresh fruit first. You’ll find long lists of such simple steps online, in your local library or physician’s office.

We all need good food, good exercise, an annual physical exam, time off from our caregiver duties. We need to know our own personal limitations. Our heads may lie to us—our bodies will not.

Remember to laugh

Do you doubt there’s any humor in your life? Have you ever started honestly swapping stories of your foibles with a friend? Ever tried sharing tales of flat-out flubs? How about our eccentricities? Soon, we’re laughing and that is very healthy for us—and everyone around us.

Laughter tames fear, as so many bright people have pointed out down through the centuries. Laughter reduces stress. A belly-shaking explosion of laughter can blot out time and anxiety. You know how to get your computer going again when it slows to a crawl from an accumulation of too many programs whizzing through its brain. Well, think of laughter as rebooting the body and soul.

For more tips and help

If you are interested in learning more, please take a look at my book, Guide for Caregivers. Guide for Caregivers contains many more self-care tips for caregivers along with voices of other caregivers who experience the same things you do. It’s designed to restore a new and right spirit in caregivers. Our goal is to restore balance to the spirit—to replace sadness with laughter, fear with hope, exhaustion with vitality, mourning with gratitude, emptiness with joy and burnout with a rekindled passion.

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