It is difficult physically, emotionally and mentally. Caring for a senior loved one who may be frail or losing their cognitive abilities is heart-wrenching, and the exhaustion that comes with 24/7 care doesn’t make it any easier. If you are the caregiver of an aging loved one, here are some self-care habits you can practice to prevent caregiver burnout.
Don’t Hide Your Feelings From Yourself
You are going to experience a wide range of emotions as a caregiver, and not all of them will feel good. You may feel angry and resentful from time to time. Acknowledge this to yourself and give yourself a break, literally and figuratively speaking. Consider the underlying emotions and take steps to understand them, either on your own or with the help of a counselor, priest, minister or other resource. The most important thing is to realize that it is normal to feel these emotions!
Set Realistic Goals
As a caregiver, you need to set realistic goals for yourself. You probably won’t be able to care for your loved one, your family, your job and run a marathon. Set small goals that you can achieve. This will help to avoid guilt and negativity. Instead of setting a goal of cleaning the entire house on Saturday, set a goal of cleaning the kitchen the bathroom. That is enough work for the weekend. Then you can accomplish the goal and feel satisfied that you did what you set out to do.
Do Not Engage in Negative Self-Talk
Your job is hard enough as it is. Do not become your own worst enemy by talking negatively to yourself. You are a caregiver and you should be very proud of that fact. Not everyone can be a caregiver and still carry on all the responsibilities of daily life. Negative messages may also prevent you from getting the support you need. You may believe that even if you ask for help no one will step in. Positive messages will help you to ask for the support and help you need and deserve.
Practice Stress Management Techniques
Stress is your enemy. If you let stress run away with your physical and emotional health you will quickly experience burnout as a caregiver. Once you are burned out, there is little you can do except take a break from caregiving duties. Most caregivers want to avoid that scenario, so the first step is to reduce stress in the first place.
- Learn deep breathing techniques and practice them regularly. They reduce physical and mental stress and can be done anytime, anywhere – in the car, while sitting with your loved one, or while eating dinner.
- Do what comforts you during the day. Take 5 or 10 minutes in the morning and afternoon to comfort yourself. It might be drinking your favorite tea, taking a brisk walk down the driveway, or smelling aromatherapy oils of your favorite scent.
These things will reduce your stress and calm your mind.
Maintain Your Own Health
You can reduce your chances of slipping into caregiver burnout if you keep your health strong. It depends upon your willingness to take common sense steps to good health.
- Eat a balanced diet and regular meals that include fresh fruits and vegetables
- Drink plenty of water
- Walk whenever you can
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
- See your doctor for regular check-ups. High blood pressure can sneak up on you and you may not experience the symptoms until it is so high as to make you sick.
Caring for yourself is all about finding the tiny moments during the day when you can do something for yourself. It’s not about taking a day to go to the spa or taking a vacation. It is about finding small things that you can do on a regular basis to calm and refresh yourself.
It May Be the Last Resort, but Take a Day Off
When all else fails and the pressure of caring for aging parents is weighing you down, schedule time off. An afternoon or a day away will give provide welcome relief. You can ask friends or family members to step in and temporarily assume caregiving duties. If that isn’t possible, hire a professional caregiver for the day. They are trained to work with seniors like your parents who may resist caregivers or a stranger in the house. They know how to develop relationships and put aging parents at ease.
In honor of professional and family caregivers around the nation, we’ve opened up applications for a respite care grant. You could receive two free days of in-home care to give you the break you deserve. Sixty grants will be awarded across the United States. Initial winners will be announced on June 4th. Apply here!