8 Ways for Caregivers to Take Care of Themselves

Tired of living in a state of high alert as a caregiver? Try these simple ways to take a break and re-charge without guilt.

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- Posted on Feb 27, 2018

A sandwich generation daughter embraces her elderly mother with comfort.

I've been a card-carrying member of the sandwich generation of caregivers for a very long time. My son was born with special medical needs 26 years ago and he still needs a little help from mom. And my mother is 100 years old and I am responsible for her care and her life.

I realized a few years ago that I was living in a state of crisis all the time and my mind was in a constant state of high alert, waiting for the next emergency. But I felt guilty about having any pleasure, fun or rest. I waited so long to take care of myself that I got injured caring for my mother and then I got sick multiple times, not to mention emotionally imbalanced.

Does this sound familiar?

This is why caregivers need a time out. If you can't take a vacation, or even leave the house for long, you've got to invent new coping skills so that you are not at risk for caregiver burnout. The first thing you need to do is to give yourself permission to take time out, as a preventive measure and in the midst of a crisis, so that you do not wear yourself down. Try one or more of these.

1.  Talk to a friend. A caregiver's world often narrows due to the extreme focus on others. It's not uncommon to be isolated and feel that you've lost the connection to the rest of the world. But a friend can bring you back in! Facebook is one way to keep in touch, but you need to talk to real people. There is a special joy in a leisurely phone conversation to catch up with an old friend. Make it a point to keep communication open with the rest of the world. It can help you remember who you are.

2. Take a warm bath. Whole days can go by before you get a chance to shower when caring for others. And when you do, it’s fast and furious, so as not to miss anyone who needs you. Some caregivers don’t like to be away from the phones for long, so sometimes the only place to disappear into is the bathroom. A bath can do wonders for a sagging spirit. Epson salts can especially help with stress. But just the alone time alone, combined with immersing in warm water, can cleanse you of worries.  When you let the water out, imagine your troubles going down the drain.

3. Let music move you. Do you love rock music from a certain era or like to sing to country songs? Maybe you prefer to unwind with classical or inspirational music. Whatever your taste, music can shift your state of mind in a nanosecond. Identify music that soothes you when stressed and that energizes you when drained, and keep the CDs handy. Also, get audio files on your computer and a music app for your phone. When times are tough, retreat into music. It's a way of shaking stress and sadness out of your system and restoring energy after a draining experience. You can also get an iPod with earphones and easily listen when sitting by the bedside of a beloved.

4. Read a great book. A novel can take you on a journey to a faraway land or into the life and experience of a favorite character. It can have a very positive effect because research shows that the brain does not know the difference between fiction and reality, so enjoying stories that inspire you can make your own life feel better. Non-fiction books can also do the trick of engaging your mind and helping you take time out from troubles. If you read an uplifting book before bed you may wake up with happier thoughts.

5. Get lost in a movie or television.  Fiction on video offers the same great escape as a novel. And caregivers need to learn how to be couch potatoes, at least once in a while. You can't always get out of the house for a movie, but it’s easy now to bring a movie into the home via the TV or computer, or an app on your phone. Amazon, Netflix and Hulu paid services put the world of fiction at your fingertips wherever and whenever you need a break. Even if you only have time for small doses of watching, it can give your mind a much-needed rest from reality.

6. Crossword puzzles and word games. Recent studies indicate that keeping your mind active with puzzles and games helps cognitive health. Caregivers stress can interfere with memory; lack of sleep can make you feel foggy. Games that challenge your mind can help you use your brain in a new way. Focusing your mental energy will also take your mind off your worries.

7. Nature walks. Caregivers too often find themselves stuck indoors or locked into the schedules of loved ones, but it’s key to have time outdoors where you can breathe fresh air. A walk in nature can change your perspective as it gives you a much-needed change of scenery. Just cruising by greenery in the neighborhood or a park can improve mood. If you walk with a friend there is an added value of support and friendship. Can't get too far away? Then try 15 minutes in the backyard or front porch. Anywhere you can view nature will help.   

8. Pray. Sometimes prayer is the best time out, because it gives you a moment with God. But make sure to include yourself in your prayers ― for strength, wisdom, and skill to handle the caregiving you are being called to. As every caregiver knows, there are days when the burden is heavy and you don’t think you can continue to carry it. On those days, all you can do it toss your worries up to God and ask for help.

It’s important to realize there is nothing selfish about taking time for yourself. In fact, it is beneficial to for your loved ones if you take time to nourish your own body, mind and soul while caring for another.

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