Caregivers’ ability to engage in self-care is equally as important as the dedication they give each day to their loved ones. There is a reason that flight attendants ask you to put on your mask before helping others. If you do not have ample energy, the proper mental state, or good health, you may not have the ability to care for someone else. There are many understandable barriers to prioritizing yourself, from general guilt, lack of energy, or anxiety about spending time away from a loved one in need. However, it is possible to overcome these initial hurdles and take time out each day to practice self-care and become the best caregiver to both your loved one and yourself. Here are three ways to engage in self-care each day:
1) Create a Community
While being a caregiver can be rewarding, it can also be incredibly isolating when you are giving the majority of your energy and time to the wellbeing of an older loved one. Sometimes you might feel like you are alone in your experience and feelings. Joining a support group can be extremely liberating and a safe space to share common challenges, successes, and opinions about being a caregiver. The Boston area has numerous options depending on your and your loved one’s circumstances. For caregivers of a loved one battling Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association has (currently virtual) group options available based on the language spoken, stages of the disease, and more. Boston’s Age Strong Commission also has a list of local resources and support groups available to caregivers of older adults.
Reconnect with the community that is closest to you. Make a point to reach out to a friend or family member. Set a goal to send two texts or make one phone call to friends each day. Being able to hear about someone else’s life and share what you are going through can be extremely therapeutic, make you feel more connected to the world outside your caregiving role, and help break up the day to day routine.
2) Remap Your Mind
Our minds are malleable and continuously growing and changing. Simple mental exercises each day can reframe your perspective and mental wellbeing.
Gratitude journals have shown to improve one’s mental mindset in numerous ways. By writing just five things that you are grateful for each day, you can increase positivity, improve your self-esteem, and reduce stress. While some people prefer the old fashioned pen to the paper method, (you can even purchase a journal dedicated to gratitude), there are also apps on your phone that make it even easier to take a few minutes to reflect on the good in your life.
Many caregivers struggle with focusing on “what is” rather than “what if.” At the end of the day or on reflection, they feel like they could have done better, been more patient with, or more available to a loved one—the dialogue of “what if I…” plays in their head. Try to focus on “what is” instead. It might seem contrived but be your own cheerleader each time you do a task for a loved one (we would ask you to write it down, but you probably would run out of paper). Did you make breakfast for your loved one? Acknowledge yourself! Did you schedule a doctor’s appointment? Made sure your loved one goes for a walk? Congratulate yourself! Caregivers do so much that seems just “part of the day.” Take a minute to realize all that you do for your loved one rather than what you could have done better.
Developing a meditation practice provides a myriad of benefits, such as managing stress, stronger self-awareness, increasing patience, and helping you to stay in the present moment. The book “Comfortable with Uncertainty” is an excellent introduction to the benefits of meditation and how it can help change your current mindset to be more comfortable with the uncertainty of life. Apps like Headspace are also excellent guides to begin and continue your meditation practice.
3) Take Care of Your Health
Caregivers might often find themselves at the doctor’s office. However, when was the last time you saw a doctor for yourself? Make a point not to skip your annual checkup or any specialist appointments. These appointments are just as necessary as your loved one’s appointment because your health is essential to keeping your loved one healthy.
For many caregivers, exercise is the last thing they want to prioritize. At the end of the day, you might not feel like they have enough energy to make dinner, let alone get your heart rate up. However, by getting your blood flowing, endorphins will be released, raising your energy level. You do not need to run a marathon. Do a virtual Zumba class, take a walk around the block, or do an online yoga class. Do not let the thought of exercise overwhelm you. Start with five minutes a day. If that feels good after a week or two, add another five minutes.
Lastly, the most important thing you can do is to be kind to yourself. When taking moments for yourself, try to stay in the present, not feel guilty about spending time away from your loved one, and not be anxious about what you need to get accomplished. Put on your oxygen mask and take a deep breath, you (and your loved one) deserve it!