Wholeness Healing Today

Care for the Caregiver

In the last newsletter I talked about the Sandwich Generation and how life circumstances can suddenly put you into a care-giving role on both ends of the spectrum with your parents and your children. This can be overwhelming. Susan’s story showed how easily your life can be hijacked as you run from one critical issue to the next. So I thought it would be good to look at how to maintain some self-care when caretaking others. Obviously, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you will not be worth much to those you are caring for when you get run down and ill yourself. The risk of colds, flu, and other chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer is higher for caregivers than those not care-giving. However, when caregivers do take time to care for themselves, they actually stay healthier, feel better about themselves, and have more energy and enthusiasm. So how do you do this when you find yourself in the throes of care-giving?

First, and foremost, put yourself on the list of those daily tasks. Get exercise. Exercise will help your mood and help you sleep better. Aim for 2 ½ hrs. of moderate activity a week. You can do it in blocks of 10 minutes throughout your day or take a longer block of 20-30 minutes and give yourself a good cardio workout. Eat right. Make sure you give your body the needed fuel and nutrition it needs. When time is a factor, we often resort to foods that are fast and easy, and often not the best choice for our body. If you can maintain a healthy eating style, your immune system will operate more optimally, your mood will be better, you will have more energy, and you will feel better overall about yourself and your life circumstances. Get enough sleep. If you are not getting enough sleep, fill in with naps during the day. Sleep affects everything during the day. If your nights are interrupted regularly, plan to get one full night’s sleep each week uninterrupted. Make time for an activity you enjoy. Even if you only get a few minutes a day, find something that you can incorporate into your schedule, whether it is reading, listening to music, or playing the piano. Find something for yourself that allows you to get away from the daily tasks and refreshes your soul. Get regular medical treatment. Have your annual physical if you are healthy or see a doctor if you need treatment in between. Pay attention to yourself, your mood, and do something if you start to notice some sadness, overwhelming feelings, or hopelessness which could indicate some depression.

Second, as a caregiver, don’t help too much. People need to maintain their dignity. If something doesn’t need to be done by you, don’t do it. If you do it for them when they could do it themselves, you take away their opportunity to take care of themselves and you do something you don’t need to do.

Your goal as a person’s caregiver is to empower the person and enable him to maintain independence or be in control of his life as much as possible. Some ways to do this is to let the person make as many decisions as possible. If he cannot make the big decisions, then let him make the decisions he can make about his daily life — what he will wear, eat or when to go to bed. Simplify when possible to give him opportunity to be in control of some of the areas of his life. Make it easier for him to do tasks and allow for mistakes. Things don’t have to be perfect and the person accomplishing the task will feel much better about doing something on his own. Help the person feel good about doing things on his own. Give the person something to care for. Studies show that nursing home residents who are asked to care for pets or plants live longer and become more independent.

And last, ask for help when you need it. If someone makes the offer, take him/her up on it. Allow someone to sit in for you while you get yourself a much needed nap. Or ask him/her to pick up some items at the grocery store, fix a meal or do some cleaning or yard work for you. Other things you can do are to hire someone to help for a few hours a day, find a grocery store that delivers, hire a home health aide, or use Meals on Wheels.

Respite services may be the most important consideration in your own mental health when you are a caregiver. This service would provide someone to stay with the person so that you can have a few hours out. Adult day care centers are sometimes available where you can drop off the person to stay during the day. Check out the yellow pages to see if there are any services in your area.

If you are one of those who has a story like Susan’s, take a moment to breathe, assess the situation, and be aware of what your own needs are. A short-term period of putting your needs aside is workable, but if it is a long-term period, figure out how to manage your self-care in the mix of it all. You will be a much better caregiver if you are able to ensure you are giving yourself what you need to be healthy.

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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