by Guest Columnist Cheryl Jeffers
Providing rides to medical appointments. Making a trip to the grocery. Vacuuming the living room. These activities represent only a fraction of things a caregiver may do. If you have done any of these things for a loved one, then you are a caregiver.
Each November is National Family Caregivers Month – a time to honor and recognize family caregivers and the critical work they incorporate into their lives for the betterment of a loved one. Many times, that work can be overwhelming, and responsibilities can be difficult to juggle. In order to have a sense of balance, it’s essential to carve out space for a critical member of the equation – YOU.
“Self-care is a priority; a necessity – not a luxury”, said L.R. Knosts. This is so true as a caregiver, yet it is one of the hardest things to do. It can be difficult to see beyond everyday caregiving tasks. Who has time to take breaks when there are meals to prepare, showers to help with or doctor’s appointments to tend to?
It’s not selfish to think about yourself, your health, your needs and feelings. After all, how can you be expected to give and give, when you may feel empty?
Approximately 75% of caregivers are female with an average age of 49. (Ebersole & Hess) Numerous studies have shown that caregiving compromises one’s health. Characteristically, caregivers are more likely to show signs of anxiety, clinical depression and tend to take more prescription medications than others in their age group.
Caregivers are not likely to ask for or want to accept the support they may need. This can be because many caregivers don’t identify themselves as being a caregiver. They are just doing what needs to be done as a friend, family member or spouse. Many caregivers feel guilt and have thoughts such as, “I should be able to do this,” or “something may happen if I am away.”
The truth is – all will be just fine, and it’s OK to give yourself a break.
Giving yourself a break can look like many things. Perhaps it includes taking walks, reading a book, saying a prayer, or indulging in a nap. Perhaps a break is as simple as realizing that you are not a super-hero and taking a deep breath.
Talking to friends, family or professionals and accepting the support of others is also part of self-care. Finding connections outside of caregiving help caregivers maintain perspective on life’s challenges. Outside connections may involve working with a home care agency to provide support and respite care so caregivers have the time and space they need to focus on their own needs and desires.
Here’s a pro tip: Laughter really can be the best medicine – for you and your loved one. It is not disrespectful to laugh – as long as you are not laughing at the person you are caring for, but are, instead, laughing with them. Give yourself permission to notice when funny things happen. Laughing at a humorous, ridiculous, or ironic situations can help ease tension and increase positive interactions for both of you.
Self-care and laughter refresh your mind, body and soul. But self-care is not always easy to do. Sharing with others can be a good first step. You and your care recipient will be better for it.
Cheryl Jeffers is an experienced family caergiver and Chief Operating Officer of Home Instead Senior Care.