Taking Care of Yourself
Caring for yourself is one of the most important-and one of the most often forgotten-things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit, too.
Family caregivers of any age are less likely than non-caregivers to practice preventive healthcare and self-care behavior. Regardless of age, sex, and race and ethnicity, caregivers report problems attending to their own health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities. They report:
- sleep deprivation
- poor eating habits
- failure to exercise
- failure to stay in bed when ill
- postponement of or failure to make medical appointments.
Family caregivers are also at increased risk for excessive use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and for depression. Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. On the one hand, caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience. On the other hand, exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources and continuous care demands are enormously stressful. Studies show that an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed.
Taking Responsibility for Your Own Care
You cannot stop the impact of a chronic or progressive illness or a debilitating injury on someone for whom you care. Nevertheless, there is a great deal that you can do to take responsibility for your personal well-being and to get your own needs met.
The first task in removing personal barriers to self-care is to identify what is in your way. For example,
- Do you feel you have to prove that you are worthy of the care recipient's affection?
- Do you think you are being selfish if you put your needs first?
- Is it frightening to think of your own needs? What is the fear about?
- Do you have trouble asking for what you need? Do you feel inadequate if you ask for help? Why?
- Sometimes caregivers have misconceptions that increase their stress and get in the way of good self-care. Here are some of the most commonly expressed:
- I am responsible for my parent's health.
- If I don't do it, no one will.
- If I do it right, I will get the love, attention, and respect I deserve.
Once you've started to identify any personal barriers to good self-care, you can begin to change your behavior, moving forward one small step at a time. You are responsible for your own self-care. Focus on the following self-care practices:
- Learn and use stress-reduction techniques.
- Attend to your own healthcare needs.
- Get proper rest and nutrition.
- Exercise regularly.
- Take time off without feeling guilty.
- Participate in pleasant, nurturing activities.
- Seek and accept the support of others.
- Seek supportive counseling when you need it, or talk to a trusted counselor or friend.
- Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
- Change the negative ways you view situations.
- Set goals.