An American author and public speaker Jim Rohn once wrote, “One person caring for another represents life’s greatest value.” This value is instilled within many individuals who are responsible for caring for a loved one with a terminal diagnosis.
For many, it may feel like a privilege and a reward to be entrusted with such great responsibilities, and simultaneously feel overwhelming and exhausting. To be successful as a caregiver, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of self-care.
Self-care means something different to each individual. For caregivers, self-care involves physical, emotional and mental care. For some, this may mean indulging like treating yourself to a massage or manicure while for others, it may mean self-discipline, such as organizing finances, meal planning or getting up early when you want to sleep in.
The goal of self-care for caregivers is to reduce caregiver stress that can lead to burnout. With that in mind, the following tips for self-care may help caregivers achieve balance and be better equipped for the challenges of caring for their loved ones:
1. Take a Break. As a caregiver, it’s important to take time for yourself to nourish your mind, body and soul. Whether it’s a relaxing massage or simply enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation with a dear friend, find time to take a break. Even if you can only manage a short time away, be sure to create some space for yourself to relax and do what brings you joy. This may include:
- Take a quick nap. Ten to 20 minutes can reduce your sleep debt.
- Turn your phone off and disconnect for a bit
- Read a book or journal
- Go for a walk or do simple stretching to get your body moving
- Take yourself out on a date by going to a movie or treating yourself to a little pampering
2. Be Organized. Finding the time to take a break might be an obstacle. By being more organized, you may feel less stressed or be able to find the time you need to relax and refresh. Some ideas for organization may include:
- Place important documents, such as health care directives and medical insurance information, in a safe place that others have access to when they assist you.
- Use and share a calendar for scheduled appointments or pharmacy/medication refill schedules. An electronic calendar can also send you automatic reminders to take or refill medications, or for upcoming appointments.
- Keep a list of what you need help with, so when friends and family ask how they can help you can give them something tangible to do right away. Ideas may include: shovel the driveway, mow the lawn, grocery shop, make a meal or simply visit with your loved one so you can get out of the house.
- Meal plan, including utilizing online grocery orders and having your groceries delivered to you.
3. Identify Your Personal Support Network. You don’t have to do this alone. A support network may include family, friends, fellow church members or privately hired caregivers. Also consider utilizing support groups to connect with those who may be assisting their loved one in navigating a similar illness. Examples of organizations that offer such groups are Alzheimer’s Association, Muscular Sclerosis (MS) Association and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association. Tell your doctor that you are a caregiver and schedule regular check-ups. You may experience physical symptoms of stress that your doctor can help you manage.
4. Research Options for Additional Care. You can do anything, not everything. There may come a time when you need help, are physically exhausted, or simply cannot perform a task your loved one needs. Research what other options are available; you may contact AARP, Meals on Wheels, senior services or other community resources. Take time to learn about palliative care options and hospice care, and how it could best help your family, before you’re in a crisis situation.
5. Be Kind to Yourself. Caregiving is hard work, and we are often the hardest on ourselves. Know that you are doing the best you can—pouring as much love and assistance as you are able to into your loved one’s care. Allow yourself some grace, time to recoup and have the courage to ask others for help.
Caregiving for a loved one through a terminal illness is a final act of love. It can be incredibly challenging and stressful, but the journey can also be filled with many beautiful moments and gratitude as you help usher your loved one through this delicate time.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, non-profit hospice serving more than 30 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.hrrv.org.