Taking care of yourself while caring for a loved one is critical. While it may seem like you are not a key priority, especially when the person you are providing for is sick, you absolutely are.
Your overall well-being influences the quality of care you can provide.
If you neglect self-care, it’s easy to become exhausted, ill, or lonely. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to “do it all.” It’s likely that others can help and want to help take some weight off your shoulders. Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to say “yes” when someone asks if they can lend a hand.
Caregiving can be an all-encompassing physical, emotional, and spiritual experience, so leaning on others and finding opportunities for self-care are important. Below are some ways to lighten the burden you may feel and suggestions that may help you stay upbeat and connected to others:
Stay connected and ask for help
Make a list of tasks that friends or family members can do, such as shopping, providing meals, doing laundry, or just being in your home to provide companionship. Some experts recommend identifying friends and family members on that list according to how they are most able to help. For example, one person may be great at running errands, while another person might be a good person to talk with when you need to discuss your feelings.If you belong to a faith community, ask what help is available; many faith-based communities have individuals or teams that are dedicated to practical support, including helping caregivers.
A number of hospice providers offer telephone or online support groups for caregivers. By participating, you can get helpful tips, support other caregivers, and receive validation from others. There are also caregiver groups on social media platforms, such as Facebook, and some disease-specific advocacy groups provide support groups for caregivers.
If your loved one is in hospice care, ask about any services the hospice provides to support family caregivers, such as in-home aides, trained volunteers, and proven community resources.
Take part in activities that will bring joy to you and the person you are caring for, such as looking at family photographs, recalling special times spent together, listening to favorite music, watching old movies, or sharing stories that you may not have shared before.
Don’t neglect your own medical care. You may be able to do some routine appointments by using telehealth services, but don’t skip important in-person preventative screenings.
If you are experiencing physical or medical issues, such as significant weight gain or loss, inability to sleep, or increasing episodes of anxiety, contact your medical provider.
Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol will decrease your ability to provide good care, and place both you and your loved one at risk. If you feel like you are at risk of harming yourself or others, reach out for help right away.
Thoughtfully plan for your own nutritional needs at the same time you plan for “your patient.” If you can, take advantage of grocery or meal delivery services.
Identify someone you feel comfortable confiding in and reaching out to when you need to talk. This person could be a close friend, family member, or an outside counselor. If your loved one is in hospice care, you can talk with a social worker, chaplain, or another person on the care team to share frustrations, concerns, or sadness.
Coping with feelings of being unprepared for caregiving
Caregivers are often tasked with becoming overnight experts in the personal care of a loved one. Keeping track of medications, helping someone get to the bathroom, or changing a diaper may seem daunting at first. Here are some ways to handle what may be a new, uncomfortable, or frightening experience:
If your loved one is receiving hospice care, rely on hospice professionals to give you good information on what you need to do and how to do it. Make sure that you have written information and the 24-hour phone number for questions that arise in the middle of the night. Many hospices also offer caregiving videos that demonstrate how to perform certain functions and procedures, such as administering medication or changing a bed when someone is in it.
Even if you are not using hospice care, a local hospice’s website may be a great and free online resource for learning basic caregiving strategies and techniques.
If care is complex and physically demanding for a prolonged period of time, acknowledge that you may need additional support in caring for your loved one. Most hospices can provide other options for providing care in hospice inpatient facilities, nursing homes, or assisted living facilities when pain and symptoms cannot be managed at home. Hospice also provides respite care, which can be accessed by caregivers needing a break.