Care for the caregiver: Be mindful of your physical, mental and emotional needs

As a caregiver, your days and nights are taken up with the needs of the senior who depends on you. Providing for your own needs becomes a kind of balancing act that can be difficult to maintain, particularly if your loved one has Alzheimer’s or some other debilitating condition. It’s important to remember that taking good care of yourself allows you to be a better, more physically and mentally capable caregiver. You need to find ways to incorporate self-care into your busy daily routine.

A large demographic

More than 65 million people in the United States provide care for an elderly, disabled or chronically ill relative or friend. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, that’s almost 30 percent of the population spending 20 hours a week caring for a loved one. The typical caregiver is a female, roughly 50 years old, providing care for a mother who is approximately 70; nearly 70 percent of family caregivers are women. Clearly, a large number of middle-aged American women take care of someone in their own family, or an individual with whom they have a close relationship. Even if you’re in good health, you need to pay close attention to your long-term care and wellbeing.

At risk

The stakes can be high for caregivers who neglect their own physical and mental health. They are susceptible to developing chronic illnesses themselves after years of caring for someone with a serious condition, such as dementia. Fortunately, there are many ways you can mitigate the wear and tear on your body, mind and soul. Be kind to yourself. Talk to other family members about giving you a break once in awhile so you can clear your head and get some badly needed time away.

If your care recipient suffers from cancer, you may want to check into hiring someone to help you (talk to other family members about sharing the cost). If you have a family of your own, it’s especially important that you spend time with them. It’s beneficial for everyone concerned and it’ll give you a chance to share your experiences and frustrations with those who know you best. And it’ll make you a better caregiver.

Stay active

If you’re spending 20 hours or more a week caring for a senior, you probably feel frustrated or even unappreciated once in awhile. If so, you need to find an outlet for your emotions. Exercise is a great way to blow off a little steam. Whether you attend a gym or just walk around the neighborhood a few times a week, it’s important to move around and get your heart rate going. If you just can’t get outside, there’s always calisthenics, yoga or stretching exercises.

Engage your mind

Caregivers often experience depression or feelings of low self-esteem. You can combat negative emotions by expressing yourself in different ways. Journaling is one proven-effective way to vent. You might be surprised at how therapeutic it can be to get your thoughts down on paper. In many communities, there are support groups for caregivers that encourage candid dialogues, which can be remarkably healing.

Eat right

It’s very hard to balance caregiving and self-care if you don’t follow a healthy diet. The stress of providing care every day can make it easy to indulge in bad eating habits. You can’t go wrong if you include brightly colored fruits and vegetables with every meal. Avoid junk food and empty calories as much as possible, and be careful to watch your alcohol consumption.

The one task that caregivers often overlook is the most important – taking care of themselves. If you’re caring for an elderly person, bear in mind that providing your loved one with quality care is directly related to your own health and wellbeing.