When you spend most of your time caring for others, self-care can sometimes be pushed to the backburner. As a family caregiver, it’s important to make time for yourself and prioritize your own health and well-being. In the long run, dedicating a little bit of time for self-care can make the everyday responsibilities of caregiving feel much easier and more enjoyable for you — and can even help benefit the people you love most.
What Is Self-Care?
Self-care is a broad concept, and you might hear it described in a number of different ways. At its core, practicing self-care is about taking care of yourself, in a way that only you really can.
Here’s how Maria Baratta Ph.D., L.C.S.W. describes this important idea in Psychology Today:
“Self care in essence is the mindful taking of time to pay attention to you, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that ensures that you are being cared for by you.”
Clinical health health psychologist Helen L. Coons, PhD echoes that sentiment, telling Good Housekeeping:
“Self-care is one’s action arounds our physical, emotional, relational, perhaps professional, educational, and, for some people, spiritual well-being that reflects the way that we take care of ourselves on the most fundamental levels…”
Self-care can take all sorts of forms, but it’s all about making a purposeful effort — no matter how small — to acknowledge and address your needs. Depending on your unique circumstances, self-care could mean anything from making time to spend with a romantic partner, to enrolling in a yoga class, to simply taking breaks throughout the day to decompress and step away from work for a few minutes at a time.
The Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers
Self-care is incredibly important for maintaining your overall health and happiness, especially for Sandwich Generation caregivers. Giving so much of yourself to others for so long can have a serious impact on your well-being and quality of life. As a result, it is quite common for family caregivers to report high levels of stress and anxiety. Many family caregivers report feeling mental, physical, and emotional strain, and countless caregivers say that they’ve sacrificed proper sleep, healthy eating, and doctor’s visits as a result of their responsibilities. Caregiver burnout is an incredibly common phenomenon, and can cause feelings of stress, exhaustion, anger, and frustration that carry over into other aspects of life.
For caregivers, it’s important to remember that it’s not selfish to practice self-care. In fact, it’s an essential part of being a well-rounded person — and a productive, effective provider for others.
As Dr. Coons explains, there is sometimes a misconception that “taking care of ourselves is self-involvement or a selfish act instead of a self-respectful act.” However, when people “take care of themselves in all aspects of their lives,” she continues, “they actually have more energy, more reserve and depth to take of others at home, at work, and in their community.”
If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you know that flight attendants give a speech reminding passengers to always secure their own oxygen masks before attempting to help others. Self-care works in much the same way. You will be safer, more secure, and more capable in caring for others if you also make time for your own needs. As the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) puts it:
“To be able to care for the people you love, you must first take care of yourself… Taking care of yourself is a valid goal on its own, and it helps you support the people you love.”
With all this in mind, what does self-care look like, and what does it mean for family caregivers?
From making small everyday changes to rethinking your approach to caregiving, there are lots of ways for caregivers to prioritize their health and well-being — while still continuing to give their loved ones the support they need to truly thrive. Looking for some inspiration? Here are some important self-care practices and techniques for family caregivers:
Practice Self-Love, Empathy, and Compassion
As Dr. Marlynn Wei writes for Harvard Health, “self-compassion is essential to self-care.” She continues:
“Being kind to yourself builds the foundation to self-care. Self-compassion means giving yourself credit for the tough, complex work of caregiving, stepping away from the self-critical, harsh inner voice, and allowing yourself time — even if it’s just a few minutes a day — to take care of yourself.”
Guilt, anger, and grief are all incredibly common feelings among family caregivers. Self-care starts with self-love, and acknowledging these complex and sometimes unpleasant feelings as they come up. Be sure to look for small ways to find the joy in caregiving. Set reasonable limits and boundaries, and be sure to give yourself credit for all the amazing, wonderful, helpful things you do each day — and cut yourself some slack should you ever slip up.
Breathe Deeply, and Laugh Often
It’s amazing how much of a difference you’ll feel if you simply stop to take a deep breath. As Dr. Wei explains, practicing simple breath awareness for as little as 10 minutes a day can have an enormous impact on your stress levels. This activity can be as simple as breathing in and out slowly, while sitting in a comfortable position and taking notice of your breaths. You might also want to consider more focused “mind-body” activities and deep relaxation techniques, such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation. These activities have all been shown to help people relax and unwind, lowering their stress levels.
Don’t count out the healing power of telling a joke or finding a funny cat video on the internet! Look for any opportunity to smile and laugh with joy; studies have shown that laughter can help lower mental and physical stress and tension in the short-term, and help improve your mood, relieve pain, and boost your immune system in the long run.
Make Time for Your Health
Protecting your physical health is one of the most important things you can do in life — not only for your own well-being and fulfillment, but for the person in your care. You’ll have more energy and focus to give to others if you make time to care for yourself. It’s all about building a solid foundation for yourself by taking practical steps like:
- Eating nutritious meals
- Getting enough sleep each night, and taking time to rest during the day
- Drinking water to stay hydrated
- Getting regular exercise
Remember, without proper care for your body, you’re more likely to experience burnout, sickness, and fatigue over time.
Take a Mental and Physical Break from Caregiving
As a caregiver, it’s only natural to want to devote as much time and attention as possible to your loved ones. However, focusing only on providing care to others can make suffering from burnout all the more likely. Life is meant to be enjoyed — and that includes seeking out a diverse array of experiences that can help you explore your interests, flex your muscles, and expand your horizons beyond caregiving.
Look for hobbies and activities that can help you relax and unwind, and which allow you to completely shift your focus away from caregiving — if only for a few moments. There are countless options out there, depending on your interests and passions; it’s all about finding what excites and relaxes you, whether that means painting, cooking, hiking, reading a book, going to the movies, making time for diner with friends, woodworking, kitting, crafting, birdwatching, writing… the list goes on and on!
Find Social Connections
We talk all the time at Companions for Seniors about the importance of helping the elderly remain social. The same advice goes for caregivers! When you spend all your time caring for others, it’s easy to feel separated or isolated, which can lead to sadness, anxiety, and further withdrawal. For caregivers, building relationships and staying social can come with enormous benefits. Spending time with others can help you relax, and provide a well-deserved self-esteem boost. In the long run, being social can even have positive physical effects, and help promote healthier choices and decision-making. There are lots of ways for caregivers to connect with others, from joining a local support group, to participating in a professional networking group, to joining an online community or forum for caregivers.
Know When to Reach Out for Help
As a caregiver, it’s important to recognize your limits — and know that reaching out for help isn’t selfish or a sign of weakness, but an incredible act of strength, courage, and love.
There are lots of options out there that can help you shoulder some of the responsibility of caring for an aging loved one, including companion care services. With companion care, a professional senior companion can spend time with your loved one, providing emotional support and friendship while also making sure that they have the assistance they need to live independently. A companion can assist with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as moving about, using the restroom, bathing, and grooming, while also providing driving services, meal prep, housekeeping, and so much more.
Did you know that home care and companion care are even sometimes called respite care? It’s true! With respite care, family caregivers can get time back to use as they see fit, safe in the knowledge that their loved ones are being supported and cared for in the comfort and safety of home. With this opportunity to rest, you can then come back to caregiving with more focus and enthusiasm, avoiding burnout. Meanwhile, getting to socialize and get to know a new caregiver may invigorate and inspire your senior loved one, empowering them to nurture meaningful relationships and connect with their community.
Looking for Help? Companions for Seniors Is Here
At Companions for Seniors, we know how important self-care is for caregivers. As a loving family caregiver, you deserve the opportunity to take care of your own health and well-being. We’re here to help make that important goal feel a whole lot easier.
If you have any further questions about taking care of yourself as a family caregiver, or want to learn more about the amazing benefits of respite care for seniors and their loved ones, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors.
We’re here and happy to be your sounding board as you and your loved ones prepare to transition into a new phase of your journey together.
We are locally owned in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs. All of our companions are trained and bonded, and can assist your loved one with a variety of unique services. While helping seniors maintain a higher quality of life, we also hope to provide greater peace of mind for family caregivers who may need some support of their own.
From one hour to 24 hours a day, we can be there for you and your loved one. We understand that every situation is different, so we provide a personalized care plan that’s modified to meet each client’s specific needs. As a client’s situation changes, so can our plan of care.
Have any more questions? Ready to get in touch? We’d love to keep the conversation going. To get started, click here to fill out our convenient online form or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today.