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The Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers

By Kimberly FowlerAugust 26, 2019
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Being a caregiver for a parent or senior loved one can be a full-time job, leaving little opportunity for anything else, including your own self-care. However, self-care is essential and it benefits not only you but the loved one you are caring for as well.

Learn more about the importance of self-care and how to adopt the following four restorative practices for a healthy body, mind, and soul.

4 Ways for Caregivers to Prioritize Self-Care

If you are providing unpaid care for a senior loved one, you are not alone. According to a Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) report, you are one of the 34.2 million Americans who identify as a caregiver for an adult age 50 or older.

Many people who find themselves in the role of caregiver experience feelings of guilt for wanting (and needing) time for themselves; however, the FCA compares the necessity for self-care with that of applying your own oxygen mask on an airplane before assisting anyone else: “only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others.”

Self-care is an essential and necessary part of the process of providing care that benefits not only you but the person you are caring for as well. After all, you cannot pour from an empty cup.

While providing care can be very rewarding and satisfying, it can also be exhausting, with many caregivers reporting personal health issues including:

  • Depression
  • Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs
  • Failure to exercise
  • Failure to stay in bed when ill
  • Poor eating habits
  • Postponement of or failure to make medical appointments for themselves
  • Sleep deprivation

To combat these possible issues and live your best life possible while providing care for a loved one, consider adopting the following restorative practices for a healthy body, mind, and soul:

1. Eat a healthy diet.

An article published by Senior Helpers underscores the importance of a healthy diet, not just for your physical health, but your emotional health as well. In the short term, enjoying a diet of nutritious and well-balanced meals can help to increase energy and reduce sluggishness, while in the long-term, eating well can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

2. Get enough sleep.

Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your mental health and cause a ripple effect of negative emotions and thoughts. Your body needs seven to eight hours of restorative sleep each night for optimal health. Try implementing a predictable and regular bedtime routine to coax your body into a relaxing slumber, including limiting mobile devices or tablets two hours before bed, sleeping in a cool, dark room, and wearing comfortable pajamas.

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3. Get regular exercise.

According to the FCA, exercise “promotes better sleep, reduces depression and tension, and increases alertness and energy.” Although finding the motivation and time to exercise, especially in the beginning, may be a struggle, small steps will add up. Try walking for 20 minutes a day, three days a week to experience the full benefits of exercise.

4. Make time for hobbies.

Taking a break from caregiving to reinvest in activities and hobbies you enjoy will help to reinvigorate you and remind you of who you are, outside of being a caregiver. Accepting help from family, friends, and professionals to reinvest in yourself may be difficult, but the reward of getting reacquainted with yourself and rediscovering what brings you happiness and peace will allow you to be the best caregiver you can be.

Do you have any other suggestions on self-care for caregivers? We’d like to hear your tips in the comments below.

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Kimberly Fowler