It’s called “burn out.” Because, let’s face it, being a caregiver is exhausting. You may feel guilt, resentment, anger, anxiety or helplessness. You may have to give up your income and career prospects to care for someone. Even if you love the person very deeply, it can feel as though the focus is always on them and your needs and wishes go unnoticed. Often you deal with the situation alone and feel very isolated. (My mother-in-law didn’t leave the house for two years when my father-in-law was dying.)
But you can’t do anything to help another person if you’re a basket case yourself. To be the best caregiver possible, you need to be physically and emotionally well, yourself.
After all, how effective can you be…
If you’re run down, tiring more than usual, will you be able to provide good care?
If you have a cold or the flu, will your loved one catch it from you?
If you are not well, who will fill your shoes, whether temporarily or permanently?
If you become depressed, will you be able to make good decisions, or will life become unbearable?
It’s important to remember to create a balance between caring for others and caring for yourself.
But how? Here are a few simple (and probably obvious) suggestions:
Eat regularly. The same goes for sleep.
Get exercise — make it a priority for both your mental and physical well-being.
Get regular check-ups and don’t ignore possible symptoms of ill health.
Take a break — down time is crucial.
Join a support group for family members — learn how other people cope.
Here are some suggestions you may be hesitant to heed, but it’s really in your best interest as a caregiver…
Let others help — don’t be a martyr. Honestly, you don’t have to do everything all of the time.
Ask others to pitch in with things like driving your loved one to hospital treatments so you can have a little down time. (My uncle and his neighbors took turns driving their friend to appointments.)
Take time for you. Schedule another friend or relative to spend time with your loved one each week. It will cheer both of them up and make them feel better.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a home health aide or a visiting nurse when you need one.
Now, on the other side of the coin…
5 Quick Tips on How You Can Help a Caregiver
1. Ask what the caregiver needs help with – not what you think she may need help with. You may have the best idea since the invention of the iPhone, but if it doesn’t work for the caregiver or their loved one, then it’s not a good idea!
2. Visit the patient. Play a game of cards, read to them, tell funny stories, or just chat. An hour visit can free up the caregiver to run errands, have their hair cut, or have a quick visit with a friend, without guilt or worry. A visit doesn’t have to last all day (and, in a lot cases, that may not be welcome anyway).
3. Offer to go to the grocery store or bring over dinner. It’s like manna from heaven to eat someone else’s cooking or have the tedious job of grocery shopping done for them. Put it casually, like “I’m going to the grocery store, do you need anything?” (Don’t forget to slip in a goodie or two in the bag!) Or, “I’ve made a huge lasagna, want some?” It’s a casual way to help…and offer some relief.
4. Learn about the condition. If the caregiver is dealing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, learn as much as you can about it. Ask questions. The caregiver will appreciate talking with someone who knows what they are dealing with on a daily basis.
5. Be a friend. There is a high rate of depression among caregivers which may lead them to withdraw from friends and family when they feel overwhelmed. Call to see how the caregiver is doing. Visit with them but don’t be super sensitive if the visit is cut short. After all, their time is often not their own — they’re busy taking care of someone who is either sick or disabled. Yet, they need you now more than ever!
Being a caregiver is a 36-hour-a-day job. Sometimes without sleep…or forgetting meals…letting your health take a back seat…or suppressing all the tears and fears.
Take good care of yourself and let others help take care of you. Because the best present you can give your loved one is your own good health.