Attention Caregivers: Take “me time”

When a loved one is ill or undergoing treatment, it’s true that the most important thing is that person’s health and recovery. However, the caregiver is another major part of making sure that recuperation goes well. All caregivers, whether professionals or family members, need to make sure that they are in the right physical and emotional state to provide the best level of care.

Over longer periods of time, the demands of keeping track of doctor’s appointments, ensuring that medication is given at the right time and dosage, shuttling the patient around town, checking that food is nutritious and eaten, and so on can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Excessive stress actually releases hormones which trigger fatigue, irritability, headaches, and can even weaken the immune system. If the caregiver doesn’t  balance out the exposure to stress, it can eventually lead to burnout --which is extremely difficult to overcome.

Common stress/burnout indicators:

  • Anxiety, depression
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Overreacting to minor nuisances, irritability
  • New or worsening health problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling increasingly resentful or angry
  • Drinking, smoking, or eating more
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Cutting back on leisure activities
  • Social withdrawal

The human body has a natural way to combat stress, which is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. This is called the body’s “relaxation response”. As a caregiver it is very important to activate this relaxation response by practicing self-care, even if it’s just a few moments each day. But what can you do to bring a bit of self-care into your day? Try these simple (and free!) activities:

  • Breath awareness (deep breathing), meditation or mind-body practices like yoga, tai chi
  • Eating well (cutting back on sugar, alcohol and fat)
  • Quality sleep time (7-8 hours night)
  • Pamper yourself with calming music, warm baths, reading, lighting candles, or diffusing essential oils
  • Go for a walk in the fresh air

When in doubt or feeling overwhelmed, ask for assistance. It’s ok to need to some extra help or to take a break. If someone offers to help, don’t be afraid to accept the offer. Or consider joining a support group for caregivers. Check your local listings for possible groups – religious organizations and medical service outlets tend to have excellent resources. There are even online support groups with people from all walks of life all over the world. Online groups have many benefits including convenience (time of day, location), diverse people caring for various illnesses, and the freedom of anonymity.

The role of the caregiver is critical to the well-being of the patient. Remember if you’re run down, you cannot give your best – so make sure to put some “me time” into your caregiving schedule. You and your loved ones will benefit from it.


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