If you are caring for a family member or loved one who is seriously ill or disabled, remember this. You might even write it down and hang it by your loved one’s bed: Caregivers who take care of themselves can take better care of others.
It’s easy to understand, but like many things in life worth learning, it’s hard to do. In the role of caregiver, your time and energy may feel like they’re running short, even if your loved one isn’t living with you. Add responsibilities like work and kids, and stress can build.
You may feel like you just can’t do it all, and do it well.
And you’re right. Nothing will cure you of your perfection fallacy better than dealing with a family member who’s sick, disabled or has cognitive impairments.
Here are 4 tips I offer patient caregivers to keep them going:
1. Talk to a doctor (about yourself)
If you are feeling overwhelmed, your doctor, or the doctor of the person you’re caring for, may be able to point you to appropriate support. Support groups exist for caregivers involved with many chronic diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS) and a doctor who specializes in MS would probably be familiar with appropriate support groups or a local MS Foundation chapter.
2. Find time to walk or exercise
Whether it’s a brisk 20-minute walk in the morning, a trip to the gym, a swim or working out to an exercise DVD at home, exercising helps give you energy to take on all the responsibilities of a caregiver. It helps your mood and is an essential part of keeping your stamina while maintaining good health.
3. Brace yourself for bureaucracy
People often don’t realize at first that financial assistance for things like a home health aide or community resources like respite day care can be incredibly frustrating to access. But these programs are there for a reason, and the resources will ultimately go to you, your family and your sick or disabled loved one. Everyone just needs to be patient and do their best to communicate.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself
If you barely have a free minute, your house might not be as clean as you’d like it to be or dinner might be grilled cheese and tomato soup. Try to let it go. And remember, you can’t control everything. Sometimes, undesirable things happen and they’re not your fault.
As a caregiver, you are giving yourself in an important way. Just be sure to take care of yourself in the process.