Self-Care for Caregivers

America is facing a growing crisis that for years has existed quietly in the background. Only those who have experienced it themselves can truly understand the how and why that are the daily challenges of unpaid family caregiving. According to the 2020 data from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, today, more than one in five Americans (21.3 percent) are caregivers. The total number of family caregivers in 2015 was 43.5 million. Today, that number has grown to an estimated 53.0 million.

America’s aging population is one factor in this increase. There is also a growing number of people who are being diagnosed with diseases that are limiting their ability to care for themselves. The result – more people who are trying to fit 48 hours into a 24-hour day. Caregiving is a full-time job, but most people do not have the financial ability to forgo work. And no matter how much a caregiver wants to be there for the person they are providing care for, the reality is a caregiver cannot fully give up their own life. Doing so benefits no one.

Burnout is something all caregivers have to deal with throughout their caregiving journey. But without self-care it can become overwhelming. Taking a few minutes each day to invest in self-care will benefit both the caregiver and the care recipient in the end, so take them.

Say Goodbye to Guilt

 Caregiving can be riddled with guilt. Caregivers can often find themselves feeling like they should have been better or done better and they have regret for things they said or didn’t do. Not every day, every moment or every interaction is perfect. Everyone has moments they wish they could redo. It is important not to dwell on these moments and recognize that forgiving perceived shortcomings will create an opportunity to do better next time. 

 Take Notes

Caregivers often take notes about the person they are caring for to use as a reference or to bring to doctor appointments. This is something they should do for themselves as well. Keep a journal of how the day went, was it a good day, what feelings did the day trigger, what was learned and other information. Going back and looking at these notes can surprisingly reveal a pattern of recurring gratitude and love. 

Mayday! Mayday!

 Asking for help can be hard. Conversations often go like this, “Please let me know if I can help in any way” and caregivers reply with “I will, thank you”. Yet they rarely do. Don’t wait until the ship is sinking to ask for help, even if it is just in a small way. Help is cumulative. It all adds up. And humans seem to function better with a purpose. Accept someone else’s purpose to help. 

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

 Self-reflection is often hard but vital to being one’s best self. Take time; it only needs to be a few minutes, to breathe and gather thoughts and look inwards. Acknowledge and value accomplishments that have been made. Take time to be thankful for a good moment or a good laugh. Take time to see and recognize the personal strength it takes to be a caregiver. 

Run Your Race

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” Theodore Roosevelt said. Try not to compare a day or caregiving journey to someone else’s. Everyone has their own unique challenges layered with complicated decisions. There isn’t a formula for caregiving. What worked for one person may not work for another, and that is okay. Every caregiver has to find their own path. 

 Keep It Simple

 When game planning for the morning, day, week or month, learn to simplify. Often the perception is that the more that can be accomplished in one day, the better. However, when it comes to caregiving things need to be made less daunting. If something intimidating lies ahead, try to break it down into small steps to achieve the goal. Know that living an uncomplicated life can help make things seem more manageable. 

 One thing that is certain for caregivers is that the challenges are not going to stop. Some days will have more than others. The key to avoiding burnout and staying strong is to create a personal formula for dealing with them, starting by simplifying daily life as much as possible and accepting that it is impossible to do it all. 

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