The Healthier Caregiving Journey
by Joanne Lee
Caregiving is truly a marathon. You can’t predict how long the journey will be, so it’s essential for your own health and sanity to pace yourself and give yourself huge doses of self-compassion. No one can do this role perfectly. I can’t imagine another role that requires so much; and yet, people are so hard on themselves. In my book Wake Up Call for Caregivers: Tools to Protect Your Health, I encourage caregivers to take their health seriously.
Pay attention to your health. Make yourself a top priority. If you or someone you know is a caregiver, it’s essential to take care of your health in the same way you do your loved one. It’s imperative to consider what will happen to your loved one if something happens to you. Hopefully this motivates you to look at your lifestyle and make necessary changes. This requires creativity and trial and error. You are also dealing with waves of emotions that are asking for your attention, along with the enormous responsibilities you carry. Listen to the messages your body is sending you.
You need support. We need to normalize caregiving as a team effort in our society. It’s very easy to feel isolated and alone. If you are part of a faith community or other group, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for support. People want to rise to the occasion and help during moments of crisis. You must be proactive and ask for something specific since others may not know how to help you.
Give yourself grace. There is so much unknown when thinking about planning for the future with limited information. You will make mistakes and not know what you are doing. Know that you can always change course at any time, since things may change rapidly. Examine your regrets and consider if you have control in these areas.
Trust your instincts. You know your loved one best, so try to think about what they would want. There are so many voices telling you what you should do, so you have to go deep inside and listen to that quiet voice of wisdom. This requires that you slow down and remain calm.
Start making a healthy caregiving plan as early as possible. You won’t regret this often forgotten but essential step. This includes healthy eating, rest and relaxation. The best way to avoid burnout is to address it early on. It’s much harder to recover from burnout when you don’t have any resources left. Include what you need to not only survive but thrive. It might be something simple such as stepping outside every day to breathe fresh air, but you need to intentionally make time for it, or it will get lost in the endless urgent tasks in front of you.
Asking yourself what keeps you going on difficult days is so important. This can be anything from a sense of gratitude to setting an example for your children. If you want to finish well, you absolutely need to take great care of yourself.
Joanne Lee is an Integrative School of Nutrition Health Coach and family giver, blogger and the author of Wake Up Call for Caregivers: Tools to Improve Your Health. She understands how hard it is to balance caregiving demands while living the rest of your life. She helps caregivers prioritize their health while caring for their loved ones. For more information, visit PerennialHealthCoach.com.