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Self-Care for Caregivers

by Paul R. Strickland, Board President. Down East Hospice Volunteers

"There are only 4 kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver."

~ Rosalynn Carter

One of the things we are all starting to recognize is that for the past year and a half maybe more, we have all been under tremendous stress due to the pandemic. This discomfort and stress are compounded for hospice volunteers, caregivers, and family members.

We have all heard the axiom that if the oxygen masks come down on an airplane that the first person to mask is ourselves and then assist others. Although we all know this, it is sometimes easy to forget that to have the energy and stamina to care for others we have to care for ourselves.

Caregiving burnout is vast and cumulative. One individual's experience may be different than others and require different levels of support. Caregivers knowing themselves, finding outlets for relaxation and rejuvenation, and understanding their stress limits are important to their wellbeing in serving clients and loved ones.

It's an understatement to say that caregivers have a lot on their plates; assisting with personal care, food preparation, regular housekeeping duties, medication management...the list goes on.

Hence the irony; who needs more care than a caregiver?

We know it can be difficult to find the time for self-care, but it's important to remember that your wellness is still a priority. We also know caregivers may be too burned out to think of exactly what they need. So, here are some tips to help you practice self-care:

* Let Go of Guilt

First of all, know that you are worthy of care, and you do not need to feel guilty or selfish for those feelings. Let go of the notion that putting yourself first is wrong - you're a human with needs, too.

* Stretch and Breathe

You don't need to join a yoga studio to know the benefits of breathing and a good stretch. Try this stress relief technique to help you use your breath for healing. - Stand

facing out a window. Take deep breaths, slowly exhale. Then reach up to stretch, and

then reach down towards the floor. It's a small thing that can produce big results.

* Get Some Laughs

Whether it's calling your funniest friend or watching a favorite comedian, it's important

that you still get some regular chuckles. Laughter can improve your immune system,

relieve pain and improve mood. It's no wonder they call it the best medicine.

* Talk to Someone Once a Day

You should talk to at least one person other than your care recipient every day - staying

social is extremely important for your health. Have a few people you can trust on

speed dial to call whenever you need to vent or be distracted by a topic other than


* Get Rest

Getting the recommended amount of zzz's is important for everyone's general health, and especially so for people like caregivers who are undergoing additional stress.

Here are a few quick tips to get more restful sleep:

- Try to fall asleep and wake up at consistent times each day

- Reduce daytime naps

- Avoid intense movies or shows right before bed

- Take a relaxing bath or shower

- Avoid late meals or alcohol before bed

* Prioritize Nutrition

When you're busy taking care of someone, it can be easy to turn to fast foods, which are often packed with added sugar or trans fats. These foods may contribute to heartburn, depression/anxiety, and a weakened immune system.

With the ongoing stress of caregiving, good nutrition becomes critical to maintain your health and well-being. Here are a few tips for healthier eating:

- Eat several small meals per day. Five or six may be best

- Include protein, vegetables, and healing fats (olive oil, butter, nuts, olives) at each meal and snack

- Limit consumption of coffee, soda, and alcohol

- Drink eight to ten glasses of water per day

- Avoid processed sugar and carbohydrates. When you crave sugar, slice an apple, and spread it with healthy peanut butter (no added sugar or fat)

Good nutrition is nourishing on many levels. Eating healthy will not only help you cope better in the short term, it may also protect you from future health problems.

* Ask for Help

Caregiving takes a village - trying to do it alone will lead to burnout. As a caregiver, you can create a simple list, calendar, or planner with a list of needs. Tell your community what you need and when. If this feels too awkward, ask someone who cares about you to create one on your behalf. People truly want to help.

* Find Time for Exercise

Exercising doesn't have to mean spending hours at the gym - you can get a fun and effective workout at home, for free. There are many videos online that can help you with whatever kind of exercise in which you are interested, such as yoga, weight training, or dance.

You can also include the person you are caring for in these activities, to the extent they are able, to enhance their well-being.

Keep in mind: A walk around the neighborhood still counts as exercise and can be a great way to relieve stress.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list on self-care - but it's a start. Get creative about your own self-care. Think about all the things you do for others and apply some of those techniques or practices to yourself. Talk to your hospice volunteer about ways you can care for yourself.

"You are worth the quiet moment, you are worth the deeper breaths, you are worth the time it takes to slow down, be still, and rest."

~ Morgan Harper Nichols

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