12 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers
Are you a family caregiver? Many Canadians provide informal (unpaid) care to a family member or friend living with a long-term health condition, a physical or mental disability, or problems related to aging. According to Statistics Canada, one in four individuals aged 15 and older, or 7.8 million people, are family caregivers.
Taking care of another person is rewarding, but it can also be physically and emotionally challenging. Depending on their loved one’s needs, a family caregiver’s tasks might include housework, home maintenance, managing finances, scheduling and coordinating appointments, transportation, grocery shopping, meal preparation, assistance with eating, administering medicine, help with bathing and dressing, help with using the toilet, and more.
Over time, caregivers often feel stressed and burned out, especially if they handle the bulk of care or juggle other demands, such as work, school and child care. COVID-19 has caused additional stress and anxiety, but even before the pandemic, it was common for caregivers’ own health – including their physical fitness, nutrition and mental well-being – to suffer. In addition, caregivers can become isolated from friends and family. They may also experience financial stress. Many family caregivers pay out-of-pocket costs, and working-age caregivers may lose income if they take time off to provide care.
Making time for self-care
Caregivers often put others’ needs ahead of their own, leaving themselves drained. To prevent burnout, it’s important to squeeze in small acts of self-care whenever possible. Here are a dozen strategies to get started:
1. Schedule it. Often, self-care is pushed aside because it has no specific date and time. Reserve time in your calendar, even just half an hour, as an appointment with yourself.
2. Ask for support. Which of your family and friends could help with caregiving? What tasks could they do? People are often willing to help but don’t know where to start. (If you’re not a caregiver yourself but you know someone who is, ask how you can help them.)
3. Get organized. The home-organization gurus are right: your environment reflects your mental state, and vice versa. Decluttering can create more space to breathe.
4. Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps relieve stress and reduce anxiety. Squeeze in small workouts daily, whether it’s a power walk, a yoga session or strength training. You’ll be glad you did.
5. Improve your nutrition. Food, mood and energy levels are intertwined, so it’s key to eat a healthy diet. Focus on mostly plant-based foods, as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide.
6. Express your feelings. Writing in a journal can help you manage your emotions. (If you’re struggling, however, consider seeking counselling.)
7. Treat yourself. Enjoy life’s little pleasures – an episode of your favourite TV show, a hobby you enjoy, a chat with a friend. You’ll likely feel recharged after a little “me time.”
8. Get more sleep. Many of us don’t get enough shut-eye. To boost your chances, improve your sleep hygiene and take power naps (15 to 30 minutes) in the afternoon.
9. Meditate. Take a few minutes, at least once a day, to calm your thoughts and centre yourself with meditation or breathing techniques.
10. See your doctor. When was your last physical exam? It’s important to maintain your own health and get routine medical tests (such as pap smears for women and prostate checks for men).
11. Spend time with others. If possible, enjoy leisure time with friends or family members, even if it’s just a phone call or video chat.
12. Hire professional help. Home health care is beneficial for many older adults and their caregivers. You may be surprised by the variety of services available, such as companionship, housekeeping, meal preparation and personal grooming.
Taking time out for self-care is beneficial for you and the loved ones you care for. Prioritizing your own needs may be challenging at first, but try one or two of the strategies above and see what difference they make.