When you’re a caregiver it is easy to overwork yourself. Caregiver stress, fatigue, and overall burnout can be easy to dismiss as less important than undivided attention for your aging or disabled loved one. In other words, caregiving has the potential to be all-consuming. But it shouldn’t be so at the expense of your own well-being and vibrancy. There are other ways to be—progressive ways to manage your responsibilities to yourself as well as to the person in your care.
When you indifferently accept your frustration, overwhelment, and fatigue, you do so at your expense and at the expense of your aging loved one. Your attention suffers, as do your energy, motivation, judgment, and capacity for joy. It’s in everyone’s best interest that you maintain proactive awareness of your own needs, even when that means asking for outside help or taking a break. A caregiver’s self-care checklist can guide you as you become more comfortable prioritizing your needs and creating harmony among your personal and caregiving responsibilities.
Keeping Your Various Roles and Responsibilities in Perspective
Now is as good a time as any to step back and consider how the different parts of your life are working—for your own sake and for the higher good. Your self-worth does not depend on how successful you are as a caregiver. It’s good to remind ourselves of that fact and to reroute the common tendency to overestimate our capacities and overachieve, even when it means running ourselves into the ground. It takes a bit of patience to move away from these tendencies, but you can learn to better manage your expectations and forge a path that is truly self-sustaining and free of so much stress!
Just as you can help your aging loved one to set smart goals, you can approach your own goals with fresh eyes. When you make a list of the housework, care tasks, errands, appointments, and other activities that you decide you need to do in a day or a week, are you being honest about how much time you really have and how much you can realistically fit in? And have you carved out the time for your own needs? When you get real about this equation, you may find that the time and the tasks don’t add up. And that’s okay. It may be time to accept some help, an extra set of caring hands to spend time with an older adult while you take a break to handle your own life responsibilities or extra assistance to take over some of the housework and errands so you are free to spend more quality time with your loved one.
Shake the reaction that tells you you should be able to do this all on your own. As a caregiver, you deserve as much compassion as the person in your care or anyone else. Giving devoted attention to your own self-care is a foundational practice for reasonable work-life balance, health, and happiness.
Your Caregiver Self-Care Checklist to Help Keep You Grounded
In an ideal situation without limitations, what would you hope for in terms of daily routine, ease of care, and personal fulfillment? Can you identify which conditions and goals are most important to you and to the older adult in your care? There are ways to get creative with your time and resources in order to really put those priorities first. But in order to give this caregiving role your all, you have to reserve the time and resources to take care of yourself—and not just this week, but on an ongoing basis.
Take the time now to list the things you need and want to do for yourself—again pretending that there is no limit to your time or your energy. We’ve given some ideas and examples to get you started, but you can fill in your lists in whatever way makes the most sense to you.
- Exercise three times a week
- Sleep 7 to 8 hours per night
- Get a massage every other week
- Visit with family and friends every week
- Meet with an individual therapist for weekly appointments
- Keep up with personal spiritual practice
Personal and Professional Development
- Take an evening art class
- Renew First Aid and CPR certifications
- Take one personal day off from caregiving every month
Consider your personal goals and your goals for regular caregiving to be separate. Then think about how to integrate your time and resources to make space for both because they are equally important. If you have a hard time conceiving of real balance among all of these needs and wants, a care manager can help you to sort out your lists and your schedule. If you’ve been handling your loved one’s care all on your own for awhile, it may be difficult at this point to imagine having someone else step in to give support and respite. But welcoming a compassionate individual with fresh perspective and ideas may contribute even more than you could have expected.
As caregivers, we have to constantly be evolving because situations change and we grow in the process. Being open to new possibilities and being honest about our own human needs will ensure that we flow with the course of evolution rather than resist it.
For more ideas about balancing the joys and challenges of caregiving, check out Institute on Aging’s blog. Contact us a call anytime at 415-750-4111 to find out how our programs, services, and resources can benefit your life and your aging loved one’s.