November is National Family Caregivers Month! Caregiving provides much needed services to older adults and people with disabilities. In the United States, over 53 million people provide such services.
Though a rewarding experience, caregiving has its challenges. The number of men in the field is growing, but the caregiving task still falls disproportionately to women, who often struggle to balance the demands of home, work, and family – and, in the process, neglect to take time to care for themselves.
Some may feel that it’s selfish, or that they don’t have the time. But caring for yourself helps you stay calm, focused, and alert – which, in turn, helps you provide the best care possible and is ultimately better for everyone involved. Here are some simple but effective ways to practice self-care when caregiving.
Do something you enjoy
One of the quickest ways to recharge is to engage in an activity you enjoy. This could be something as simple as relaxing with a cup of coffee to reading a book from your favorite genre. If the activity seems too long, break it up into smaller chunks – for example, read for 15 minutes a day.
Practice relaxation techniques
Take a few minutes each day to stop your train of thought and re-engage with the present moment. This type of present-moment awareness helps you reconnect with how you’re feeling and reduce those feelings of overwhelm that tend to appear during challenging moments. This awareness also helps you react mindfully and calmly instead of with impatience or anger.
A key component of mindfulness – meditation – has many benefits when practiced regularly, particularly stress reduction. Here’s how to get started.
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
- Sit comfortably, but alert.
- Set a timer for five minutes, or use a meditation app.
- Focus on one thing at a time: your breath, sounds in the environment, or bodily sensations.
- Follow each sensation with curiosity – the feel of your breath moving in and out of your body, the whisper of the wind through the trees, the tingling in your feet.
- Note the thoughts that pop into your head, but don’t dwell on them. Simply return to your chosen sensation and continue being aware of it.
After a few sessions, you should start to notice subtle changes in how you’re feeling – such as being less likely to react in the moment and reduced stress levels. You may even notice an increased ability to focus.
Find a support system
At times, you may feel alone and isolated in your role as caregiver. Connecting with those who are in a similar situation can help you feel understood and appreciated, and can allow you to express your feelings in a healthy way.
If you’re able to, consider joining a local support group or joining a caregivers support community online. With options from young caregivers to LGBTQ+, this is an excellent way to connect with folks who are similar to you.
Stay connected to friends and family
When you’re focused on the day-to-day needs of the person in your care, it’s easy to lose touch with friends and family. Even if it’s a quick text or phone call, take a few minutes to reach out and reconnect every day. This will improve your mood and help you maintain relationships outside of your role as caregiver.
Get plenty of sleep
You’re likely aware of how important sleep is to your health, but it bears repeating. Getting enough sleep is key not only in regulating normal bodily functions, but also in managing emotional health and preventing reactivity.
If your sleep gets interrupted during the night, take catnaps during the day when you can. Even a 10-20 minute nap can improve relaxation, alertness, and mood.
Eat a balanced diet
We get it – as a busy caregiver who likely performs multiple roles, you may find it hard to maintain a healthy diet. Luckily, there are little things you can do to add some nutrition back into your meals. Here are some suggestions:
Purchase healthy meals in bulk. Today’s marketplace offers increasingly healthier, non- or slow-perishable options at reasonable prices – great for those with limited time to prepare meals. Look for foods that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat content, such as chicken, fish, lentils, or even organic frozen bean burritos.
Start your day with a smoothie. Making a smoothie is a quick, easy way to add some much-needed nutrients to your diet. And it’s delicious! Simply add your favorite frozen fruit, water and/or milk, with a few nutritional supplements like protein powder and flaxseed.
Caregivers, it’s impossible to express how appreciative we are of you. We hope the suggestions here can help you enjoy some much-needed self-care.