Caring can be a highly stressful job; a role that is often recognised as selfless. It requires a great deal of physical and emotional energy. Usually, difficult caregiving experiences with a loved one feel immensely rewarding. However, it is important to note that in order to take care of others, you must learn to care for yourself along the way.
It is normal, as a caregiver, to experience periods of extreme stress and anxiety. You must try to incorporate de-stressing activities in your daily life to help manage stress for your physical and emotional well-being.
Organising your tasks is one of the most effective ways to de-stress yourself. Manage the medical, financial and legal records of the person by keeping them filed and in one place. Keep all important information like phone numbers and medicines within quick reach, so that they are easily accessible to you, under emergency situations or otherwise.
Another way of staying organised is making a list of things you have control over. Writing will help you prioritise your daily activities and get rid of any irrelevant preoccupation. Flexibility is a skill that every individual should possess. When things tend to go out of control, be flexible and open to change. Try to avoid stressing about something that is not in your power. Instead, transfer that energy onto something productive, such as a project in which you can decide the outcome based on your own preference.
Getting a good night’s rest is extremely important for a caregiver. Lack of sleep can take a toll on your mind, body and contributes to a higher risk for depression and other cardiovascular diseases. It is recommended to get at least 7 – 8 hours of sleep every night. Try to go to bed at the same time each night, to allow your body to get used to the routine and avoid having caffeinated drinks in the evenings; especially 2 hours before you got to bed. Caffeine and alcohol tend to destroy the quality of a good night’s rest by disturbing your sleeping pattern. Avoid all screens before bed, which includes watching television and checking mobile phones. Social media can be very addictive, leaving you scrolling on your phone for hours, when you’re trying to put your mind to rest. Have a conversation with your doctor about how you can improve your sleeping habits to your own convenience.
As a caregiver, you need to be extra careful about your eating habits. A balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains is a lot better than mindless snacking. Fast food might be a convenient option, but it fails to provide nutrition your body requires to function properly.
If you enjoy preparing meals but don’t get time to do so, consider making large batches in advance on your day off. You can store the extras in the freezer for later. There are plenty of recipes available online, that will help you make pre-planned, big portioned meals with a reasonably planned grocery list.
Caffeine tends to cause dehydration, so avoid too many sugary caffeinated drinks. Try to increase your water intake while limiting your caffeine levels along the way. Instead of brewing yourself tea or coffee every afternoon, choose a fruit with high water content, like an apple or melon to soothe your caffeine withdrawal.
As a caregiver, you must learn to stay physically and mentally active. Increasing your daily activity level bears effective results. Try to take out as little as 20 minutes every day and spend time doing activities you love, such as a jog through your favourite park, revamping the garden or going for a relaxing swim. Stretching is most probably the most convenient form of exercise. Try stretching your body from head to toe as soon as you get up from bed in the morning. This releases tension from the muscles and allows the mind to focus. 20 minutes of yoga will also do wonders.
You can also combine your work out to hang out with friends. Ask your friends to work out with you, meet you at the park or outside your house for a nice long walk. Use that time to catch up and remind yourself that you have a life outside caregiving.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical fitness. Strong emotions tend to entrap an individual in an intense closure of self-hate and clouded judgment. One way to let go of the negative emotions is through meditation. Meditation finds calm when you’re tired of a struggle, by simply giving you a way to either manage it or free yourself from it entirely. It also rewards you with a renewed sense of clarity and the ability to perceive things outside clouded emotions.
Learn to exercise your mind, body and soul through yoga. Yoga will not only strengthen the body but will revamp your mental health; essential for a loving caregiver to maintain. It is the only physical activity that is gentle, soothing for the nerves and listens to your body’s requirements. Don’t rush and ease your way into the practice.
It is okay and in fact important to ask for assistance from others, whenever you need it; regardless of you being a caregiver yourself. Caring for someone else all the time can be a mentally and physically draining activity. However, it becomes less difficult if you have moral support from the people who care about you and are willing to listen to your thoughts. You are only human and need a break from time to time. It is nothing to be ashamed of. If you think you need any kind of emotional and moral support, never shy away from asking your family members and friends for help. You could also visit a counsellor on a weekly/monthly basis.
No matter what, be aware of your bodily limits. Taking on more than what your mind and body can handle can result in burnout. It is important to realise that even as a caregiver, you might need help and support sometimes.