As a family caregiver, one of the hardest things I had to do was find some guilt-free time for myself. I cannot stress enough how important it is to maintain your physical, emotional and mental health. If you don't take care of yourself, eventually you can't take care of anyone else.
It isn't only about things like missing or canceling medical appointments, it's about getting enough sleep, eating properly, and doing those things that make you feel good about yourself. There are many issues to consider here and I'd like to share my thoughts on some of them with you.
Don't feel guilty about taking time for yourself. Find things that you really enjoy doing and do them as often as possible. There is a natural breakdown of ways for caregivers to care for themselves - those that can be done alone and those that require other people or organizations.
How can you help yourself?
- Almost everyone is physically able to exercise, yet many people feel they are too busy to do it regularly. Make some form of physical activity part of your daily routine. The range of possibilities is endless, from gardening to working out with tapes on your VCR. I walk almost every morning. It helps me feel better and sleep better. It isn't always easy to find the time, but I know that if I don't I will pay the price.
- Treat yourself well. Eat the foods you like.
- Make your living area comfortable and pleasant. Fill your home with your favorite colors and things. I enjoy lots of light and fresh air.
- Find constructive ways to get rid of anger and frustration. I clean closets and organize things like my kitchen, my desk or my closet.
- Wear clothes that you like and you know you look good in. Don't neglect your appearance. I smile more and walk with more confidence when I like the way I look.
- Try the reward method. When you finish a task you don't like, do something you enjoy.
- Laughter is a great release. Find the humor in a situation.
- Crying can work wonders too, it clears the tear ducts and the mind so you can deal with the issues.
- If your responsibilities as a caregiver keep you up all night, the only thing you want to do is go to bed. If you can't, find a temporary sleep substitute, like a shower, clean clothes and a breakfast that you really enjoy.
Accepting help from others
Don't use your role as a caregiver to isolate yourself from relatives and friends. Ask for their help. Don't feel like you have to do it all by yourself.
- Respite and public health services are available in many areas. Call your local social services department or hospital to find out where to call for more information. Try to get a substitute caregiver so that you can get out of the house on a regular basis.
- Churches may have names of members who would be available to help out. Find a support group.
- There is a national organization for almost every disorder, and they can refer you to an appropriate group.
- Having information reduces stress and gives you something concrete to base your questions on. Ask any and all questions you have. If you need more information, ask more questions. The Internet can also be an extremely valuable resource for getting information.
- Find doctors who will listen to you and treat you with respect. I have walked out of doctor's offices because I didn't like the way they treated me and I told them so. Hopefully, they listened and changed as a result.
And remember, you do have the right to sympathy at least some of the time.