If you are a caregiver for someone you love, give yourself a break. Many people who are actively caring for older adults don’t identify as a “caregiver.” Yet, when considered more carefully, women often identify with this role. Realizing this and recognizing the emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can help you seek out support.
While many of these tips are logical and straightforward, stopping to consider and incorporate some of them is well worth the time.
- Let those in your care be as independent as possible. It’s tempting to attend every doctor’s appointment and to be at their beck and call for household chores. But it’s important to differentiate between the things someone can handle on their own and the tasks they need you for. This distinction is good for both of you.
- Accept help from others. If siblings, neighbors or family friends offer to assist, say yes. Be prepared with a list of specific ways that others can help, such as taking someone to the grocery store or mowing their lawn. Don’t be too proud to accept help for yourself as well. Caregiving is a big job. Allowing others to help you actually helps you all.
- Take advantage of resources and tools in your community. Many communities have classes and services, such as transportation and meal delivery, that could ease your load. Healthcare teams and a support group for caregivers can help you find resources and solve common caregiving problems.
Many women who are caring for aging parents are also caring for teenagers or young adults and are divided in their responsibilities. If you’re in this situation, you probably want to be a supermom and a superdaughter and a superworking woman and a superwife. But your self-care can suffer if you try to hold yourself to superstandards. Try to let go of guilt and be realistic about what you can accomplish. Don’t compromise your sleep, your time for exercise or your healthy-eating habits trying to do it all. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for those who need you.
TAKE TIME TO DO SOMETHING YOU WANT TO DO
Too often, women don’t take time to do the things they really want to do until they’ve finished all of their responsibilities and commitments to others. Doing things in this order leaves too little — sometimes zero — time for the things you really want to do.
Instead of saving your passions and hobbies for that rare, free moment, schedule them into your day. Book a block of time for gardening or journaling. Schedule a meeting with your favorite book and your favorite sunny spot. Set an alarm to remind yourself to do breathing exercises.
Get up early and make a trail run/walk or yoga class the first thing you do, rather than the last. Time spent doing the things for yourself is not wasted time. It allows you to recharge and attend to your responsibilities with new energy and vigor.
RELAX AND HAVE FUN
Treat yourself to a massage, manicure or bubble bath. Escape to a local show or museum. Meet your friend for a cuppa tea or coffee. Buy a new novel. Enjoy an alfresco glass of champagne with your partner, and toast your fabulous selves. Shower yourself with something special — it doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR SPIRIT
Spirituality means something different to everyone, but at its core, spirituality helps give life context. For some, it takes the form of religious observance, prayer, meditation or a belief in a higher power. For others, it is found in nature, music, art or a secular community. Staying connected to your inner spirit and the lives of those around you can enhance your quality of life, both mentally and physically. Your personal concept of spirituality may change with your age and life experiences, but it always forms the basis of your well-being, helps you cope with stressors large and small, and affirms your purpose in life.
GIVE UP GUILT
Try to let go of any guilt that you feel when you take time for yourself. It’s not selfish or lazy to prioritize a bubble bath or an afternoon of painting. It’s self-assertive. Think of these activities as part of your doctor’s orders to take care of yourself. If you find that you can’t let go of the guilt, practice mindfulness. Notice the guilt, be curious about it and then redirect your attention back to the present moment (the paint on your canvas or the warmth of the bubble bath).
Loud. And often. It really is the best medicine. As you’re being a caregiver, find humor and laugh as much as possible. Take time to be silly with grandkids, nieces or nephews — and if you do so around the family member you’re caring for, you’ll spread the laughter and joy. Or watch a movie together that appeals to both of your senses of humor.
When you’re a caregiver, you give – and give. It’s easy to get lost and forget yourself in the process. Simple strategies approached with intention can help.
Stephanie S. Faubion, M.D.
Dr. Faubion is Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, Director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health and the Medical Director of The North American Menopause Society. Her clinical research interests include menopause and sexual health in women, and she is the medical editor of Mayo Clinic The Menopause Solution.