Taking care of a loved one day in and day out can create enormous stress for caregivers, which is why it is so common to hear stories of caregiver frustration and burnout.
Just as airlines advise parents to place oxygen masks on themselves before they help their children, caregivers must remember to attend to their own needs first so they can stay in shape to provide the best possible care for their loved ones.
Whenever possible, avoid caregiver role strain by sharing responsibilities with another family member or a paid helper. Call on your network by staying in touch on social media and via video messaging — this is good for both you and your loved ones. It’s also important to be assertive when suggesting the kinds of support friends and family can offer. Time, money, and jokes are all helpful, and love and laughter assuage suffering so well that it’s no wonder they have earned a reputation as “the best medicine.”
Take the time to sit down and make a list of all of your personal needs in order to fulfill them and avoid feeling deprived. This calls for careful planning and scheduling. For example, it’s important to give yourself plenty of rest and opportunities for “me” time. If you have a favorite late-night TV show, remember to record it so you can watch it at your convenience.
Be open enough to discuss ways to avoid caregiver role strain with the rest of your family at a special meeting and enlist their suggestions for finding a balance between your caregiving duties and your regular life obligations.
You may be so preoccupied with providing balanced meals for your loved one that you shortchange yourself. Avoid fast food and sugary snacks and regularly eat high-quality, nutritious meals and snacks. If there is a farmers market near you, consider taking your loved one on an outing to pick up some healthy, organic food!
Believe it or not, there is a type of yoga you and your loved one may be able to share: restorative yoga. This is an extremely relaxing, healing, and energizing practice in which a yoga teacher arranges pillows, blankets, and bolsters to comfortably support your poses. Many yoga centers offer at least one restorative class, which can be good for both of you!
Be Alert to Changes in Your Tone of Voice
On particularly stressful days, perhaps when demands converge and you feel overextended, you may find your loved one to be difficult and unappreciative, growing impatient and inadvertently slipping into dark humor. To keep yourself loving, positive, and patient, make sure to listen to your own tone of voice. At the first sign of personal stress, switch gears and take 10 deep breaths.
Remember how scary it was when you were a small child and your caregiver — maybe the same person you are caring for now — yelled at you in angry moments? Don’t be scary! If you catch yourself crossing that line, restrain your voice and your behavior before runaway emotions overwhelm you.
If you have difficulties on any of these important issues, be sure to forgive yourself. The best caregivers practice loving caregiving on themselves as well as on others.