Much like instructions received on an airplane, under circumstances in which the well-being of a parent and child are equally at risk, parents are commonly instructed to first address their own needs and then tend to the needs of the child. This is because the child is dependent upon the care of the parent, and only when the parent’s needs are satisfied will the dependent child benefit.
And so it is when the roles are reversed and your elderly parent or loved one is now dependent upon you, the child, for appropriate care. For your dependent loved one to benefit from you as a caregiver, it is imperative that you tend to your own needs for physical and emotional well-being. Only then will you most effectively serve your dependent loved one in your role as caregiver.
The Effect of Caregiving on Caregivers.
As much as 75% of caregivers are women, who typically perform more physically burdensome caregiver tasks, such as bathing, toileting, and dressing. Male caregivers more typically provide financial support. A recent study of the effect of caregiving on caregivers revealed that more than 61% of caregivers neglected their health during caregiving. As much as 65% of caregivers reported altered sleeping and eating habits.
The study reveals that despite positive outcomes for caregivers, such as “appreciation from [dependents], improved family cohesion, developing resilience, and gaining a sense of self-worth and accomplishment,” caregiving can have a negative impact on the physical, psychologically, social, financial, and professional aspects of the caregiver’s life. Stress and depression in caregivers may be heightened when caregivers lack sufficient resources, such as knowledge, skills, social support, and community respite services.
The Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers.
The physical, emotional, financial, and temporal demands of caregiving can make it seem difficult, if not impossible, to muster the time and energy necessary for your own self-care. Indeed, you may even feel guilty for taking time to care for yourself when your loved one requires so much of your time and attention for his or her daily needs. However, all caregivers are urged to become more self-aware of the importance of self-care in providing appropriate and effective care for those who depend upon you on a daily basis for caregiving.
In September, which is designated as National Self-Care Awareness Month, resolve yourself to become a more effective caregiver every day throughout the year by accepting and implementing these five critical self-care tips in your daily life as a caregiver.
1. Caring for Yourself Is Not Selfish—It Is a Necessary and Responsible Part of Selfless Caregiving.
No one assumes the role of a caregiver because it is easy. Indeed, the role of caregiver is difficult and exhausting. Naturally, it seems counter-intuitive to accept that spending time and energy on yourself will make caring for others easier. However, current research reveals that self-care is a critical responsibility in the process of effective caregiving to others.
Taking time to satisfy your own needs does not mean you are neglecting the needs of your loved one. Rather, like a responsible parent on a plane, taking time to secure your own health and well-being is a necessary step to assuring that you are physically and emotionally able to serve as an effective caregiver to others. The well-being of your loved one is dependent upon your own well-being. As resistant to this concept as you may be, resolve yourself in September to take responsibility for your own well-being so that you may be a healthier, happier, more effective caregiver throughout the year.
2. You Need Oxygen. Breathe.
Practicing self-care should not be stressful. It should help to alleviate stress and stabilize your emotional response to stress. One of the easiest ways to facilitate effective relaxation is simply to become more aware of your deep breathing. According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), “[t]o effectively combat stress, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response.” The relaxation response is “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension).” And the easiest and most effective way to stimulate the body’s relaxation response is by practicing focused breathing.
AIS recommends the following steps for activating the relaxation response:
- If possible, practice focused breathing at a set time each day, ideally first thing in the morning, before you are consumed by other responsibilities.
- Practice relaxation techniques while you are doing other routine tasks like waiting in line or cleaning the house.
- Adopt a mindful approach to your relaxation by focusing attention on how your body feels.
- Avoid practicing focused breathing when you are sleepy or while driving.
- Be patient. Do not be discouraged if you skip a day or two. Just begin again and slowly develop your habit of focused breathing.
3. Make A Conscious Effort to Eat and Sleep Well.
Taking extra time at the end of a long day of caregiving will require a conscious effort. Resolve yourself to make this effort every night for 10 minutes during the month of September to realize the benefit in your daily caregiving routine. Your 10-minute end-of-day routine could include your focused breathing exercises to help you relax at bedtime or preparing healthy meals for the next day. Avoid preparing “easy” meals of processed foods or snacks with high sugar content. Also avoid alcohol, which increases inflammation in the body and can disrupt your natural sleep pattern. Using time wisely to prepare healthy habits for the next day will make each day easier and less stressful.
4. Try to Maintain and Enjoy Personal Hobbies.
Taking time to yourself just to prepare for more caregiving can easily undermine the purpose of taking time to yourself. When possible, it is important to step away from your caregiving role to enjoy activities that are personally fulfilling and mentally rejuvenating. Making sufficient time for personal hobbies may require you to seek out assistance in caregiving from family or friends. In the month of September, resist the urge to view such requests with emotions of guilt. Instead, try to remain open to the benefits of responsible self-care. If family or friends are not available, a brief period of home care service may be a prudent investment in your own well-being and the long-term well-being of your loved one.
5. Maintain Healthy Social Connections.
Likewise, temporary periods of home care service can provide the time necessary to maintain healthy and supportive social relationships with family and friends, or a short period of respite to take advantage of local caregiver support groups that can help you avoid feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Not only do such support groups provide healthy social and emotional support, but they are also informative and offer resources for increasing self-care awareness.
Resolving to incorporate self-care activities in September will help you to become aware of your own needs and your own ability to take responsibility for your health and well-being. By the end of the month, you may see that addressing your own needs for just a few minutes each day is not a selfish means of minimizing the care that you provide to your loved one. Rather, it is a responsible means of responding to stress and improving your health and well-being so that you can provide more effective care to your loved one as a responsible caregiver. Do not resist taking advantage of the opportunity to use home care resources as an effective tool for maintaining your own self-care. The self-care activities you employ in September may become habits you employ throughout the year as a healthier, happier, and more effective caregiver.
If you or an aging loved-one are considering hiring Home Health Care in Claremont, CA, call the caring staff at Aviva In-Home Care.
Call today: (415) 795-2203
Babar Irfan et al., Impact of Caregiving on Various Aspects of the Lives of Caregivers, 9 Cureus 1213 (2017).