I received a message from a good friend and fellow blogger yesterday, who is really struggling with a multitude of personal demands placed on her. This got me thinking, when does caring for the caregiver begin? She’s feeling completely stretched to her limits and overwhelmed by everything that is happening. She said to me ‘Larry, I’m very frustrated with my role of caregiver.’
Having spent a few days with my parents I can understand exactly what she’s going through. My mother suffers from dementia, and my sister is in the role of caregiver. Dealing with dementia symptoms in your own parent can stretch the limits of your sanity. My own mom. Who once had been a highly organized and extremely independent woman, working with science and mathematics. Who read constantly, was a keen antique collector and a great cook. She was a brilliant woman who now has lost it all through dementia.
She now is more like a young child who is very demanding and needy. Between my sister and father they’re stretched to the limits by her constant demands.
Professionally I find this all remarkable that it is touching my life in this way. Was it really only five years ago that I stood in front of a room packed full of carers talking to them about the best way to get to grips with stress. After a few years of doing this on a regular basis, meeting many fantastic giving people, I felt the need to move on in a different direction. But now I feel the calling to once again offer my knowledge and coaching skills to these selfless people.
To any caregivers reading this today, one thing I want you to accept is that it’s not selfish to make time to focus on your own needs and desires, it’s a crucial part of the job you’re doing. It’s imperative that you take responsibility for your own self-care.
You have to:
- 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.
- Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
- Change the negative ways you view situations.
- Set inspiring goals for yourself, no matter where you feel your life is right now.
- Don’t allow yourself to place your life on hold a minute longer
There is no getting away from the fact that being a caregiver is a stressful and demanding job. Your role is to help someone, often a person you love, who is suffering and responding to their every need and putting the focus entirely on them. This takes a huge toll on a your emotions. It’s only human for this to cause a great deal of stress.
In fact there is a lot of evidence to demonstrate that Caregivers are susceptible to depression, illness, physical exhaustion and emotional exhaustion. Any of these conditions will easily interfere with a person’s ability to be an effective caregiver. So if things are allowed to get out of hand, everybody will suffer.
A substantial body of research shows that family members who provide care to individuals with chronic or disabling conditions are themselves at risk. Emotional, mental, and physical health problems arise from complex caregiving situations and the strains of caring for frail or disabled relatives.
Caregivers give their time, energy, and emotions – to someone who is suffering. So taking care of yourself is the most important step you can do for yourself. You have to take charge of your life. Don’t let your loved one’s illness or disability always take center stage at the expense of your own health.
You cannot stop the impact of a chronic or progressive illness or a debilitating injury on someone for whom you care. But there is a great deal that you can do to take responsibility for your personal well being and to get your own needs met.
“What good will you be to the person you care for if you become ill?”
Here are a few tip for you for starters:
Practice daily exercise
Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and attentiveness. Find activities you enjoy. Walking, one of the best and easiest exercises, is a great way to get started. Besides its physical benefits, walking helps to reduce psychological tension. Walking 30 minutes a day, three times a week, is very beneficial. Even if you can only do it in 3 – 10 minute slots you’ll feel the benefit.
Eat nutritious meals and snacks
No more poor eating habits—eating too much or too little, snacking on junk food, skipping meals and so on. You need to eat healthily, 6 balanced small meals daily, with complex carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, and protein. You must also ensure you drink at least 2 litres of water. No binge eating and no picking up those simple carbohydrates like chocolate or cakes which you eat for comfort, but not for energy.
Get adequate sleep
A chronic lack of sleep, will end up with you suffering exhaustion, fatigue, and low energy levels. Depleted physical energy in turn affects our emotional outlook, increasing negative feelings such as irritability, sadness, anger, pessimism, and stress. Ideally, most people need six to eight hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. When caregiving you need to ensure you are getting adequate sleep so as to assure you are at your best when you need to be.
Take time for yourself
Recreation is not a luxury; it is a necessary time to “re-create”—to renew yourself. At least once a week for a few hours at a time, you need time just for yourself—to read a book, go out to lunch with a friend, or go for a walk. This is ‘You’ time something absolutely essential to get to grips with stress. Your every minute is spent thinking and running around another, so finding this time for yourself will help you dramatically.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
It’s absolutely normal for people to experience stress in this day and age at the best of times. But caring for somebody will often mean that you’re placed under a significant amount of stress on a regular basis. So while there are probably many times during the week when you can feel your stress levels rising — if you find yourself feeling close to breaking point much of the time, then it will not only have an impact on your own health but there will also be consequences for the person you’re caring for. So you have to do something about it. Taking up a relaxation technique will assist you massively.
For example, Find a comfortable place to sit and spend a couple of minutes focussing on breathing deeply. While you sit, concentrate your thoughts on any part of your body which feels tense or cramped and with each breath out, try and release the tension in your body. Roll your shoulders upwards and backwards, gently sliding your shoulder blades down your back. Keep your chest high and head facing forwards, stay relaxed and continue to breathe deeply for five minutes.
Keep an eye on yourself
You need to recognize the warning signs early, such as irritability, sleep problems, and forgetfulness. Once you spot them you can then start to make changes, but don’t wait until you are completely overwhelmed. You have to ask yourself the question “What is causing stress for me?”
The sources of stress may include having too much to do, family disagreements, feelings of inadequacy, inability to say no. Identify the things you can and cannot change. Remember, we can only change ourselves; we cannot change another person. When you try to change things over which you have no control, you will only increase your sense of frustration.
Never, I say again never feel guilty about doing these things for you. By taking care of yourself, you’re ensuring you can give your best to the person you are caring for.
I would be happy to once again run my workshops “Caring for the Caregiver” online through my webinar room totally free of charge if there is an interest. If this is something you’d like more information about, or you’d like to show interest by putting your name down please contact me.
Caregivers lives can be far more stressful than other people’s, often they’re feeling stressed all the time, and this can lead to major health problems. Start protecting yourself by learning how to recognise the signs and symptoms of stress and take practical steps to help manage your stress levels and reduce its’ harmful effects.