Spring Into Self-Care
Strategies for Family Caregiving
Strategy One - Rest, Relax and Re-energize
Caregiving brings joys and challenges. Most persons are pleased to help loved ones and feel they are giving back as they care for disabled, aging parents, relatives and friends. Caregiving is a challenge. It consumes time and energy and requires specific knowledge and skills. These demands often leave caregivers tired and overwhelmed but also with the feeling they must do more. Along with the caregiving tasks, they must also balance family roles including marital relationships, parental responsibilities and remaining responsible, productive employees. Despite the juggling acts these several roles require, caregivers push on and say: "Rest, how can I rest and relax? I have so much to do!" In these demanding situations, some try harder and take on more responsibilities than they are able to manage. As a result, they may make more mistakes, and/or feel exhausted. They have now entered the cycle of "doing more and getting less".
The stress that these situations cause usually results in increased physical and emotional issues and illnesses. The immune system is compromised and caregivers find themselves in bed with a cold or fatigue, or they may even sustain an injury from a fall. Regardless of the setback, recovery is necessary, usually requiring time the caregiver feels is unavailable. Should the reader think about your life, you will likely notice a pattern. When you fail to get enough rest and relaxation, your body forces you to rest, often in a manner you don't like and at the most inopportune time. If you do not heed these stress signals, you will find that your body produces more adrenaline and cortisol, and each of us becomes prime candidates for some major illnesses. Instead of letting the cycle - of overworking, stress, major illness and inability to provide caregiving - determine when and how we rest, we can decide ourselves. Fortunately, we can learn to do differently or even do less, and accomplish more.
You may need to determine what relaxes and re-energizes you. It may be an evening with friends, a long walk, a ball game, exercise, a movie, a religious service, sitting by a lake, or reading a good book. You may need to perform your self-care activities away from your care-partner and your home. Being in a different setting prevents your usual caregiving activities from distracting you. Whatever self-care activity you select, it is important to regularly schedule the time. Put it on the kitchen calendar so that you and other family members can see it. Place it in your personal calendar and set alarms to remind you. Then, protect that time by telling yourself and others: "I have an important, standard appointment that I cannot cancel; I am unavailable for anything else." Remember that your own respite prepares you for caregiving.