As a caregiver, you have unique needs that others may not be able to understand. Though your main focus may be on caring for a loved one, it’s essential that you also look after yourself. It may not come naturally for you to consider your own self-care, but we urge you to make caring for yourself a priority. Here’s a list of 12 ways to care for yourself when you’re a caregiver.
- Breathe deeply. As a caregiver, you may carry a lion’s share of stress and anxiety. One of the most effective ways to release some of the stress and replenish yourself is with regular deep breathing exercises. Robert Janes at HealthPrep.com recommends a technique called fourfold breathing. According to Janes, “The fourfold breathing technique is a method of rhythmic breathing that can help calm the body and clear the mind.”
This breathing exercise is very simple. Janes says, “Inhale a full breath through the nose for a total of four seconds. Hold your breath for an additional four seconds, then completely exhale for another count of four seconds. Keep the lungs empty for another four seconds and repeat from the start. Do ten to twenty times, or until you begin feeling calm and less anxious.”
Set a periodic alarm on your phone to remind you to take a few moments and breathe deeply with the fourfold breathing technique. Start by setting your reminders once every three hours during the day. You may also want to practice this technique before you go to sleep. And anytime you feel the anxiety building up, use the fourfold breathing method to bring you back to a calmer mindset.
- Talk about it. As a caregiver, you’re strong as steel. Because of that strength, your default may be to push through your struggles all on your own. While being self-sufficient is commendable, it may not be what’s best for you in the long run. Caregiver support groups are excellent places to connect with others for support, encouragement, and advice.
The caregiving experts at DailyCaring.com reported some incredible benefits of caregiver support groups. They said, “Support group members validate each other’s experiences. It’s a relief to know that what you’re going through is normal and that you’re not the only one with these feelings – negative or positive.”
Further, caregiver support groups help you to feel connected with other people who share similar daily experiences. According to Daily Caring, “Support groups are also a great place to ask for advice, find out about useful resources or vent frustrations. You won’t have to worry about judgment or confusion from non-caregivers since everyone is going through similar struggles.
You can find a local caregiver support group by searching online or contacting your local hospital for listings. Find one today and plan to attend at least one meeting as an act of self-care.
- Get outside. When you’re busy caring for the moment-to-moment needs of another person, it may not be possible for you to spend hours each day out in nature. However, it’ll do so much for your disposition and overall mental health to get outside daily for at least a few minutes.
Consider waking about thirty minutes earlier and having your morning coffee or tea out on the porch. Or when you have a moment of respite in the afternoon, take a ten-minute walk.
Feeling the sun on your back or the brisk cool air on your face will rejuvenate you as nothing else can. It’s essential to care for yourself by getting outside and enjoying the fresh air, even if it’s for just a few minutes a day.
- Write. There’s something about writing out your feelings that nourishes the soul. As a busy caregiver, you may feel that you don’t have the time to sit and write. But what if writing for a few minutes every few days could lower your blood pressure, relieve some of your pent-up stress, and help you find peace?
Caregiver and behavior specialist, Keli Gooch wrote a useful workbook called Watering the Soul: A 91-Day Purposeful Self-Care Journal for Caregivers. It’s full of daily writing prompts specifically tailored to caregivers and their unique struggles. The journal also includes encouraging guided meditations, relaxation techniques, and affirmations.
Journaling tools like Watering the Soul are quite helpful if you need inspiration. However, you can start by simply writing out your thoughts in a notebook. Don’t judge your writing, just let it flow. You’ll be surprised at how much you have to put on paper. Writing through some of your emotions might also feel like a weight is being lifted off of your shoulders.
- Eat well and drink water. Your nutrition is integral to the work you’re doing as a caregiver. You can’t live well on convenience foods and cheese crackers. When you’re busy, it’s tempting to just feed your immediate need for calories and keep moving. But you need to be properly nourished to maintain energy levels, avoid illness, and provide the best care possible.
When you wake up, drink at least 20 ounces of water to start your day. All of the organs in your body are thirsty after a full night of sleep, so replenish them first thing in the morning. Then refill your bottle and plan to drink more water throughout the day.
Eat a solid breakfast that includes vegetables. You can easily incorporate veggies into the first meal of the day with a few slices of tomato on your plate, a half an avocado with your toast, or chopped spinach in your scrambled eggs. If those ideas seem too labor-intensive, just toss a handful of fresh greens into your morning smoothie. The goal is to start your day off with excellent nutrition.
The remainder of your meals should be made up of whole foods. When you need a quick snack, reach for baby carrots or sliced cucumbers, rather than processed foods. Try to squeeze a salad once a day as well. The better you nourish yourself, the better you’ll feel and perform.
- Make sure you’re getting enough solid sleep. When you’re a caregiver, it’s often challenging to log eight hours on the pillow each night. However, it’s essential that you rest your mind and body so that you’re operating at your best.
If you routinely have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep through the night, consider taking a bedtime supplement that includes both magnesium and calcium. Magnesium will help relax all of your body’s muscle groups so that you can fall asleep easier. The calcium will help your body stay in a restful, deep sleep.
If there’s any way to indulge in a soothing hot bath before bed, that will also help you relax. Prayer and meditation before bed are also helpful, as is deep breathing. Many people also find essential oils can help promote relaxation. Definitely make sleep a top priority.
- Take time to laugh. Laughter doesn’t always come easily for caregivers. Much of your day is full of serious issues and responding to one need after another. One of the best ways to drastically improve your mental health is to find laughter each day.
A quick search online will help you find some seriously funny podcasts, stand-up clips and comedy specials. If you have satellite radio, check out the on-demand comedy stations. If you’d rather read, search your local library for books written by famous comedians.
Find some ways to laugh each and every day. It’ll change your overall disposition and lighten your load.
- Learn a new hobby. Most likely, there are times in your caregiving day when your presence is needed, but not much more. Perhaps you’re sitting with a special needs child while she calms down for a nap, or you’re providing companionship to a loved one who feels anxious without someone else in the room. These are perfect opportunities to learn a new hobby. Consider cross-stitch, crocheting, painting or hand sewing. You might also learn sudoku or sharpen your crossword puzzling skills. Hobbies like these can improve your quality of life and bring joy to your days.
- Set goals for yourself. Don’t ever give up on your own personal development. Throughout your time as a caregiver, set weekly goals for yourself. These goals may start out very simple. For example, you can set a goal to engage in deep breathing three times a day this week. If there’s a particular job you’d like to pursue in the future, set a goal to read a trade-related article each day. Setting personal goals will help you to see past your current struggles and strive toward self-improvement.
- Floss every day. Make sure you’re paying attention to the little things. It’s easy for small personal care activities to fall off of your priority list when you’re providing care for the daily needs of a loved one. However, your personal well-being is incredibly important.
Take care of those teeth. Just two extra minutes of flossing each night will improve your oral health and promote the self-care mindset you need every day.
- Check your health. Similar to all of the other suggestions we’ve mentioned, you need to take care of yourself regularly. Getting routine, annual check-ups will ensure that you stay physically healthy and fit to care for your loved one.
- Move your body. Whether it’s inside on the treadmill or outside in the sun, make it a priority to get some regular exercise a few times a week. Physical exercise will not only benefit your body, but it can truly enhance your mental and emotional health.
According to research published in Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.”
As a caregiver, be sure to make time to move your body often. You’ll be healthier overall and better equipped for all of your many responsibilities.
Take good care of yourself. When your list of things to do is ever-growing, it’s tempting to move your own needs to the bottom and get to work. That technique may be effective for the short-term, but eventually, your own physical, emotional and mental needs will resurface, demanding attention. Rather than wait for a breakdown or serious illness, put into practice these tips for basic self-care. You’ll be more effective as a caregiver and in other areas of your life if you take good care of yourself.
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8 benefits of caregiver support groups. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://dailycaring.com/8- benefits-of-caregiver-support-groups/
Janes, R. (n.d.). Breathing exercises can be used to reduce stress. Retrieved from: https://healthprep.com/articles/fitness-nutrition/breathing-exercises-to-reduce-stress/
Sharma, A. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi. nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/