Caregivers are actively involved in the responsibility of others, everyday, often forgetting to take care of their own daily health. It is easy for a caregiver to let their personal well-being decline, both physically and mentally, amidst the rigorous daily events that are required when caring for another. It can be hard enough to keep up with one’s own health and hygiene alone without also taking on the daily routine of another who is incapable of doing so themselves. Caregivers give so much of themselves that it can be easy to burn out. By remembering self-care and seeking outside support when they are struggling or feel alone, a caregiver can better cope with the stresses that come along with this immense responsibility.
Practicing self-care is not only beneficial for a caregiver, but it is also helpful for those being cared for. It can improve physical and mental health, resulting in:
- A raised self-esteem
- Increased positive thinking for a more uplifting outlook on life
- A decrease in stress and anxiety for better overall health and immunity
- Improved relationships with loved ones, including family being cared for
- More focus on what is truly important, letting go of trivial things, actively being more present in the lives of those who matter most in life
It is no secret that taking care of one’s self is critical to their well-being. Where to start or what to do in order to achieve a healthier state of consciousness, may be more the problem for some. It is important to start small and not overwhelm an already busy schedule. Incorporating at least one gesture of self-care, daily, can greatly improve the overall quality of a caregiver’s life.
1. Just Say “No”
It is human nature to want to accept invitations from friends and to help others with their personal or work problems, so as not to offend. However, sometimes you just need to say “no”. As a caregiver, it may be innate to want to help someone, but it is not rude to politely decline someone’s request because your plate is already full. Adding extra obligations to a long to-do list may cause unwanted stress. With the holidays coming up, invitations to parties and family responsibilities increase, which may lead to physical exhaustion. Avoid letting social and family pressures be the reason for unnecessary anxiety. “Saying ‘no’ and setting boundaries with others can be challenging, especially as a caregiver. But, it’s a win-win for everyone involved, since you can’t take care of others well if you’re not prioritizing your own mental health first,” says Anna Marchenko, LMHC.
2. Exercise the Body
It is well known that physical exercise directly correlates with and benefits a person’s mental health. Physical exertion releases endorphins and serotonin, having a profoundly positive impact on reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. These effects are known to aid in the recovery from mental health issues. Try incorporating a brief walk in the mornings before everyone else wakes up. Getting the blood flowing and the body’s muscles moving, first thing, can set the tone for the whole day.
3. Exercise the Mind
Of course, there will be days when a brisk morning walk will not be possible. In that case, take a down moment during the day and practice breathing exercises or meditation. Meditation takes practice. If meditation is difficult, at first, try taking slow, deep breaths, making sure to fill your lungs completely. Then slowly exhale until our chest cavity is completely empty. Repeat this simple movement while staying focused and centered. While meditating, it is important to focus on love, positivity and self-affirmation.
4. Make Free Time, Me Time
It may not seem like it, but with a little work, a schedule can be arranged to include a few minutes of free time. This free time should be used for purely selfish reasons. Read a new chapter in a book, give yourself a mani-pedi, tend to the garden or do whatever instigates a smile. As a caregiver, it is easy for the day to be consumed with the needs of others. Part of self-care is remembering the small pleasures in one’s life. Try not to use this precious free time to watch TV, talk on the phone, or scroll through social media — the goal is to relax the mind, after all.
5. It Is Okay to Ask for Help
Such a huge part, in the role of a caregiver, is the emotional support that they give to those they are caring for. However, the emotional support that the caregiver may need tends to get overlooked at times. Research has shown that long term caregiving can have harmful mental health effects and serious physical health consequences. There may be a time when a caregiver will need more help than self-care can provide, and that is nothing to feel ashamed of. There are organizations, in most communities, that are dedicated to supporting caregivers by listening and providing emotional support. These organizations raise awareness about mental health and offer support, education, and resources.
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