Taking care of yourself when a loved one needs you may seem like a selfish idea. “How could I possibly rest and enjoy myself at a time like this?” you may ask. It may be hard for you to see how taking care of yourself benefits the person you are caring for as well. But if you have ever experienced the cursory examination of a fatigued physician or the impatience of an over-worked nurse, then you have experienced what happens to the quality of care when caregivers do not care for themselves. Here are some self-care suggestions.
Pace Yourself. While you may value being strong and independent, you are not superhuman. Acknowledge your limitations. There are certain aspects of care- giving that you may not feel comfortable with or capable of handling. You need not be embarrassed by your limitations; it’s OK to ask for help.
Acknowledge your strengths. To care for another requires tremendous re- sources. The person you are caring for, however, may not be able to express appreciation for all that you are doing. Take time each day to acknowledge your strengths and accomplishments and the gifts that you share through your caregiving.
Talk it over. As you care for another, you need someone to care about you. Find someone with whom you can safely discuss your feelings and your needs—a friend, a counselor, a pastoral-care person. Possibly your community has a support group for care- givers. Don’t be embarrassed to admit to feelings of anger, resentment, guilt, fear, and depression. These feelings are natural. Having someone hear our pain connects us to others and helps us clarify thoughts and resolve issues.
Nurture your body. Caregivers tend to ignore their own physical needs. Eating well and exercising are often the last things you think about when you are exhausted from all your responsibilities. Yet good nutrition and physical activity help you cope with stress and maintain your own health and mental alertness.
Feed your soul. Learn what renews you emotionally and spiritually. Remember the simple things, especially activities that don’t require a lot of advance planning and preparation: reading, movies, gardening, visiting friends. Then when you have a chance to take a break, you won’t be at a loss for something to do.
Your relationship with the one you are caring for may become more emotionally intimate than ever before. You have an opportunity to face a challenge together and to share your fears and other feelings. Life can become more precious, death less fearsome.
Excerpt from Caring for Yourself When You’re Caring for Someone Ill from CareNotes