National Family Caregivers Month is an ideal time to reflect on how caregivers can take better care of themselves. Being a caregiver can be fulfilling and bring you a lot of pleasure, but it can also be extremely challenging. The following five tips can help you get the support you need to stay physically and emotionally healthy.
1. Rethink the idea of self-care.
Why do you provide the care you do? It has to do with your values. You are choosing this for reasons that reflect who you are and what matters to you. As part of what matters, it’s essential to acknowledge that you have your own needs, and that your needs matter just as much as those of the people you’re caring for.
Caregivers tend to put themselves last. But if you don’t care for yourself (such as getting regular health screenings and visiting the dentist, getting enough rest, exercising and doing activities you enjoy), you risk negative consequences for your own health and well-being as well as being unavailable to provide care for others. You, and those you care for, all deserve good health.
2. Set manageable self-care goals.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to make huge changes right out of the gate. A small step can have a huge impact, particularly if you’re not used to taking care of yourself. Think of it as carving out a little breathing room for yourself. It may be as small as taking a walk around the block, inviting a friend over for a cup of coffee or reading a chapter of a good book. The key is to make sure that you’re focusing on what you need during that time.
3. Allow yourself to say 'no.'
It’s important to acknowledge that you’re not superhuman. To protect your health and well-being, it’s necessary to prioritize, set realistic expectations and sometimes say, “No.” This might mean asking for help with a spouse’s care in the mornings so you can go to an exercise class, or telling your adult child that babysitting the grandkids on Saturday night is one thing too many for you that week.
4. Plan ahead for offers to help.
“What can I do to help?” Friends and family often ask this question, and you may be stumped about how to answer in the moment. To address this, make a list of anything you can think of that would be helpful to you or even just “nice to have” that would relieve some of your pressure. Once you have the list, you can then refer to it whenever anyone asks if they can help. Be sure there are both big and small asks on the list, so you can tailor the task to the person offering to help. And when the offer to help is made, say, “Yes!”
5. When it comes to getting help, think outside the box.
Your informal network might actually be larger than you think. For instance, many people get support from their faith communities or volunteer organizations. A new initiative that provides such a resource is the 4Ms-Caregiver Intervention.
The 4Ms-Caregiver Intervention is based on the 4Ms of an Age-Friendly Health System (What Matters, Medication, Mind and Mobility) and is currently being piloted for integration into Age-Friendly Health Systems throughout the country. The program offers education and support for caregivers based on their needs and values, expands the care team, and has shown to significantly reduce depression, anxiety and caregiver burden.