So many times, I have looked up to the sky and wondered, “When will I be able to have a break from this stressful situation?” Sometimes I want to scream out loud, “Why? Why me? How did I get here?” Then, after throwing a little tantrum, I come back to my senses and get ready to be the helpful person I know I must be.
Life can be harsh when you take care of others most of the time and neglect yourself. It’s very common for a caregiver to care and worry about others but not themselves. Caregivers are generous-spirited people who tend to be selfless and giving even when they don’t feel like it. Caregivers love deeply and have a sense of responsibility towards their beloved care receiver.
How can a caregiver keep giving and caring like a bucket of water that constantly pours to calm the thirst of others? No one is a bottomless bucket—we all need to be refilled and refreshed to be able to care and give.
I remember a few year ago, while taking care of my sick grandmother, how happy I felt to be the one who provided care for her. It felt good to give time, attention, and service to someone who was dear to my heart. I felt happy to be chosen to provide what she needed, and I also felt honored by the closeness we developed in our relationship.
At the same time, I had a hard time getting rest and leisure time. I couldn’t relax the same way I did before she got sick. I felt deprived of my freedom to do what I wanted to do. That didn’t mean I did not love my grandmother—I loved her dearly! That didn’t mean I would rather not take care of her—I gladly took care of her. I was just tired—almost exhausted—and I needed a break. I needed to take care of myself.
Fortunately, I realized that I needed help and I went to find it. I asked my aunt for help and she offered to stay with my grandmother while I took a weekend retreat. That retreat was the best thing I could have done for myself! I took time to reflect, relax, and rest. After that, I felt strengthened—full of peace, joy, and power to take care of my grandmother.
Perhaps you don’t have the same opportunity to take a few days off from your caregiving situation, but you could take an hour a day, or a few hours a week, to give yourself some love and care. You must do it—your bucket needs to be refilled so you can healthily keep providing the loving quality care that your care receiver needs. Taking care of yourself is not a luxury—you owe it to yourself and to your care receiver. You must keep healthy—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
There are some very practical ways that you can take care of yourself that don’t take a long time:
Schedule an annual wellness checkup: Make an appointment with your primary care physician and complete the checkup.
Reach out and network: Caregiving can become an isolating experience. Call family and friends—they can be a source of support! Ask a group of friends to take care of your care receiver once a week for a couple of hours while you take a break. They can provide the time you need to go out and watch a movie, go window shopping, walk in the park, or sip your favorite beverage.
Find a caregiver support program: Caregiver support programs help you to take care of yourself by providing free resources and assistance. Call Community Living Connections (toll-free 1-844-348-5464) to learn about programs in your area.
Engage in meaningful conversations: You may call a friend, engage in a video chat, take advantage of the many technologies available to access any one around the world, call a friend and talk about things that are important to you and to your friend, or have a good fun chat.
Exercise: One of the many reasons that exercise is good for you is because it produces endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body and help to prevent depression and reduce pain. Exercise reduces anxiety and depression, increases your self-esteem, gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and helps you sleep.
Meditate: Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm, inner peace, and comfort. Meditation is inexpensive, and you can practice it anywhere. Some forms of meditation and prayer are:
- Mantra meditation. In this type of meditation, you silently focus and repeat a peaceful and calming word, thought, or phrase.
- Guided imagery or visualization. With this style of meditation, you form mental images of places or situations you find relaxing. You try to use as many senses as possible, such as smells, sights, sounds and textures.
- Mindfulness meditation. This style of meditation focuses on an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment. You become aware of your breathing pace, your thoughts, and your emotions.
- Read and reflect. Read some lifegiving text and reflect how that mirrors your situation.
- Prayer. Prayer is the most common meditation in almost every culture and religion. Prayer can bring inner peace in life situations. You may wish to talk to a religious leader. You may also benefit from the Twelve Steps book used by many recovery groups.
Attend a support group: You may benefit from sharing experiences with people who will listen, understand, and embrace you without judgment. You will feel less isolated and lonely by talking openly and honestly about your feelings, which will help to reduce depression, distress, fatigue, and anxiety, and improve your coping skills.
Get counseling: Talking with a specialized therapist or counselor leads to self-discovery that can help you learn how to deal with situations and develop new coping skills,
Enjoy nature: Look at the stars, take pictures of natural settings, walk barefoot on the grass, lie on the grass for five minutes, listen to the birds for few minutes, smell flowers, eat outside, enjoying the breeze and the sun, visit the Seattle Aquarium or Woodland Park Zoo, go for a hike, go to the beach, or lay on the sand to connect with nature.
Take a hot bath: Prepare a nice bath with your favorite bubbles and feel the comfort of the water on your body.
Enjoy a massage: Massage therapies range from long, smooth strokes to short, percussive strokes. Some massage therapists use oils and lotions. Massage can soothe anxiety and stress, help with pain relief, and improve sleep.
Join a movement class: Zumba and other forms of dance can help you to burn calories, work your entire body, boost your metabolism, increase your endurance, improve your mood, and improve your confidence.
Read: Reading helps to stimulate your brain and mind, results in new knowledge, reduces stress, and expands your vocabulary.
Listen to music: Music therapy elevates your mood, supports your immune system, promotes a calm and relaxed environment, and helps to counteract apprehension or fear. By reducing muscle tension, music simultaneously relaxes and stimulates brainwaves.
Create art: Visual arts allow for creative expression and are a valuable therapeutic strategy. Whether you draw or paint, create needlework, sew, knit, or cook, allow time to enjoy the task, relax, and feel the sense of accomplishment.
Do something just for fun: What do you do for fun? Go to a movie, shop, get ice cream, play cards—pick your activity, invite a friend, have fun, and laugh out loud.
Don’t pass a day without taking some time for yourself. You and your health are worth it, and you’ll do your care receiver a service as well. When you are okay, you are more capable and ready to take care of others. Do not wait until you are exhausted or feeling broken to look for help, or to do something for yourself. You are worthy and valuable. You are important. You deserve care, too. The right time to start taking care of yourself is right now!
How can a caregiver keep giving and caring like a bucket of water that constantly pours to calm the thirst of others? Refill and refresh to give your best care.
Contributor Diana Moshe is a Spanish program specialist in the Family Caregiver Support Program at CISC, a community nonprofit organization that helps immigrants make the transition to a new life while keeping later generations in touch with their rich heritage.
Taking care of the caregiver
Whether you are a caregiver or a care receiver, emotional, physical, and financial needs are important. When a caregiver’s needs are taken care of, the person who receives care will benefit, too. Call today to talk with a caregiving specialist:
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