January 6, 2017
Caring for a spouse, parent or other relative no doubt has its rewards. You have the opportunity to build a deep connection with a loved one and care for someone who perhaps once cared for you.
But caregiving also involves great sacrifices that can range from time to money to your personal health. If you neglect your own physical, mental and financial well-being, you may become unable to continue caring for your loved one. That benefits no one.
So how can you avoid self-neglect or take steps to reduce it? We recently asked members of the CaregiversStress.com® community on the web and on Facebook to talk about the sacrifices they have made in order to become caregivers. Their responses about self-neglect provide inspiration for these tips to avoid it.
1. Make Time for Yourself
“My husband was told he had MS in 2001. I went to work to support us until he started falling down in 2006. I became his caretaker. I have had just 48 hours off in the 10 years since then. That is it. What to do?”
If you struggle to find time for yourself, try asking other family members and friends for help. Sometimes caregivers hesitate to reach out because they believe others will reject their request for assistance. But you never know until you ask.
Other sources of caregiving help that can provide you with needed respite include professional services like Home Instead Senior Care® [http://www.homeinstead.com], faith communities and some charitable organizations.
2. Make Your Own Health a Priority
“Recently I've had to go to two doctors, call EMS once, go to ER in hypertensive crisis, and to chiropractor to adjust the pain in my back and leg.”
– Theresa W.
Many people find they sacrifice their health when they become caregivers. When all of your time goes to tending your loved one’s needs, how can you get to the doctor yourself?
Always remember you cannot serve from an empty well. If you neglect your own health, you might eventually find yourself unable to care for your loved one. Thus, you must make your own well-being a priority as well.
Consider enlisting a family member or a professional caregiver to care for your loved one for a half-day so you can keep your routine medical appointments. You owe it to yourself.
3. Research Financial Resources
“[I gave up] my personal job. We had to give up our home and move into an RV just outside of my mother’s house.”
– Melissa P.
Caregiving can place a substantial financial burden on caregivers. Some find they must shoulder all of the costs of care because their loved one lacks the financial means. Other times, caregiving requires so great a time investment that the family caregiver has no time for a job.
If you find yourself heading toward financial trouble due to your role as a caregiver, investigate available resources and programs. Low-income seniors, veterans and others who require care may qualify for free day programs or direct financial assistance. A good place to begin your search for resources is your local Area Agency on Aging [http://www.n4a.org/].
4. Take Baby Steps to Re-Engage with Life
“I am having trouble trying to re-engage. I did go to a painting class and can't seem to find the way back.”
– Sandy M.
It can be hard to shift your focus back to self-care and re-integration with life after spending months or years as a caregiver. Try to keep in mind you did not become a caregiver overnight, and getting back to your other life also will take time and require baby steps. Enrolling in a painting class or another activity is a good starting point. Even if the activity doesn’t feel the same as it did before you became a caregiver, give it time and keep trying.
If, after a period of time, you still find yourself struggling to define a personal life for yourself, consider seeking counseling with a mental health professional.
5. Keep an Optimistic Perspective
“At 27 years old I gave up a budding career, a new life in a new home in a new city, and my social life to move to the middle of nowhere and become a full-time caregiver. However, my experience in caregiving for my grandmother who has been paralyzed and lost all speech function due to a stroke has been a blessing I never asked for. I've been able to spend quality time with the people who matter most in my life. My relationships are stronger, both family and personal. It's all about perspective.”
– Erika L.
Maintaining a positive outlook about caregiving can help you avoid burnout and self-neglect. No doubt it can be difficult to find perspective, though, when you’ve been providing full-time care for years, or even decades. If you find you no longer can see anything positive in your caregiving life, it might be a sign you need to seek help.
Consider enlisting friends or professional caregivers to provide respite care on a regular basis so you can indulge in luxuries as small as a long, hot bath or as large as a weekend getaway. And if your caregiving sacrifices make you feel depressed, consider seeking help from a mental health professional.
The caregiving burden can cause isolation and self-neglect for family caregivers, and that doesn’t benefit anybody. Fortunately, you can employ the strategies here to carve out time to tend to your own needs. This may help keep you healthy and able to care for your loved one for a long time to come.
Get helpful tips and articles like these delivered to your email.