First, let’s dispel the myth that taking the time to take care of yourself is selfish. Self-care is always important, but never more critical than when you’re also caring for someone else. While you may feel that you must put someone else’s needs ahead of your own, neglecting what your body, spirit, and mind need is detrimental to your long-term health and well-being.
Signs of burnout include irritability, moodiness, depression, anxiety, frustration, and anger. If your energy levels dip, you’ve lost interest in hobbies, or find yourself resenting the person for whom you care, step back. Each of these symptoms is your body’s reaction to stress.
Self-care: not a reward, but part of the process
Besides preventing burnout, self-care reduces the effects of stress, and enables you to refocus.
Increase your awareness of your daily stressors. Identify what causes you stress each day, and your physical and emotional reactions to it. Chart your symptoms for a week. Use that data to create a plan to manage your stress.
Listen to your body. When you’re tired, take a break. Cultivate a support system of family members, church and other community members, and visiting nurses to give you a break and/or provide regular respite care.
Evaluate your caregiving work. Are there certain tasks that you find more challenging than others? Ask for help, and don’t turn it away when it’s offered. Be specific about what you need.
Avoid self-medicating with addictive substances, because doing so can put you at risk for serious issues like alcoholism. Stress makes it easy to drink another beer, have more wine after dinner, or reach for a cigarette or something else addictive. Instead, when you’re feeling the stress and know that it’s time to step away for a break, try these suggestions:
Schedule exercise. That’s right—add it to your calendar just like you do doctor’s appointments and other engagements. You don’t have to block out an hour every day if it’s not feasible, but aim for 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week. Whether it’s a walk or jog around the neighborhood with a friend or partner, a solo bike ride, or a Spin class at the gym, commit to doing this for yourself.
Eat well. It’s easy to grab fast food through the drive-through, drink a mug of coffee and call it breakfast, and guzzle a diet soda for lunch. Whenever possible, though, you should reach for nutritious food that’s high in lean proteins, fiber, and vitamins and low in refined sugars, starches, and carbs. Don’t have a lot of time to cook? Prepare extra food and freeze leftovers for easy, quick future meals. Cultivate a positive relationship with a Crock-Pot or Instant Pot. A balanced diet will maintain your health and energy, and bolster your immune system.
Don’t sacrifice sleep. It’s tempting to come home and jump into the chores you’ve not had time to complete when you’re caring for someone else. But not allowing yourself time to relax makes it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. End each day with a pre-bed routine, whether it’s reading a good book, soaking in a warm bath, or meditating. Try to unplug at least an hour before bedtime so that your brain has time to unwind, too.
Grow your tribe. Don’t discount the importance of friends. A solid support system is scientifically proven to improve your outlook. Plus, connecting with friends boosts oxytocin, which controls stress hormones and reduces anxiety.
A quick list of more self-care activities
Can’t spare more than a few minutes each day for yourself? You can still make it happen.
● Take a 10-minute walk and let the fresh air rejuvenate you.
● Set the timer for 15 minutes, pop on a favorite show, and put your feet up.
● Treat yourself. Schedule a bi-weekly massage, manicure, or whatever you enjoy that makes you feel good.
● Spend time snuggling with your pets.
● Meditate for a few minutes each day, or do yoga.
● Make time for your hobbies—whether it’s crafting, cooking, or diving into a good book.
Here are more self-care ideas you can adapt and incorporate into your life.
This is a guest post from Harry Cline, someone with extensive experience in the field of caregiving. He is building what looks like an excellent resource at his web site: NewCareGiver.org. This post is filled with links for more information if you are interested.
Later this summer, he will be publishing a book that should be worth your time: The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers.
Harry Cline is creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.
Satisfying Retirement received no compensation for this post and is not necessarily endorsing any of the sites accessed by links provided by the other.