Caring for You: 7 Self-Care Tips for Family Caregivers
Posted by Patty Ryan, Team Care Coordinator
Often-ignored but totally necessary, self-care is any action or behavior that helps us avoid triggering health problems and benefits us by improving our mental and physical health through better self-esteem, less stress and overall well-being. These behaviors help provide balance in an increasingly over-stimulating world. Self-care makes up an essential part of a healthy lifestyle that keeps us healthy, happy, and more in-tune with our minds and bodies.
Experts suggest we neglect self-care because it can be tough to make healthy changes and manage stress in better ways. Self-care is also sometimes associated with selfishness and lazy, over-indulgent behavior. This might make us feel guilty for thinking we need to take a break from our lives to do something that, simply put, makes us feel better.
But ignoring our needs can have some dangerous side effects; it makes us more likely to get sick and can make existing conditions worse — not to mention the emotional toll of never taking a break.
As a family caregiver, the very best thing you can do for those who depend on you is to take good care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. Maintaining your health and well-being by practicing self-care activities can help you stay strong for your journey as a caregiver. You cannot stop the impact of a chronic or progressive illness or a debilitating injury on your loved one, but there is a great deal that you can do to take responsibility for your personal well-being.
On the one hand, caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience. On the other hand, exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources, and continuous care demands are enormously stressful.
It is not selfish to focus on your own needs and desires when you are a caregiver — it's about doing what's right for you and the one you love. Finding support, avoiding burnout and eating healthy are a few of the many steps you can take to ensure you are keeping yourself strong.
Since self-care is a very individual thing, there's no set prescription for how or when to do it. That said, mental health professionals recommend taking at least 20 minutes a day to do something for ourselves, which seems pretty darn reasonable. Lost for ideas? Don't fret. Here are some strategies that'll help slash stress, boost happiness and improve total health. Practice any of these self-care behaviors (or any others that occur to you!) daily, weekly or even hourly — whatever feels best to you.
It takes only a few minutes and helps our nervous system and encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. Deep breathing exercises are a foundational principle of managing life’s stresses.
Going for a walk is a great way to improve mental and physical health. Similar to meditation, spending time out of doors benefits the brain.
Not only does it torch calories, but exercising is a mood-booster that can help reduce anxiety. Running/Walking may even provide pain relief. Exercise in general is linked to decreasing symptoms of depression, so lace up your sneakers the next time you need a mood lift.
Get enough Zzzs.
There are tons of things that can sabotage our sleep. Sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect memory, judgment and mood.
Indulge in a massage.
Set aside some time to experience the complete and total bliss of a massage. It soothes both the mind and muscles, improves sleep quality, and reduces stress.
Join a support group.
It can help you know that others go through similar experiences and difficulties, and that you are not alone.
Put your own self-care at the top of your priority list.
You are responsible for your own self-care. It's up to you!