Caregiving is hard. I know. Because in addition to my healthcare career, I have another full-time job: caregiver for my 94-year-old mom. I realized it was taking a toll on me when after my last physical my doctor wanted to see me in four months — a highly unusual request. Bottom line: He saw caregiver stress was affecting me and wanted me to check in so he could see how I was doing.
As caregivers, it is hard to make time for ourselves. And it's hard to find the silver lining in caregiving. What I continually preach to others is that we have to shift our mindset from caregiving as burden to one of opportunity. We must go from surviving to thriving. To do that, also means taking care of ourselves.
Just because you don't have large pockets of time during your day to make time for say a yoga or exercise class doesn't mean you can't replenish yourself. Here are some things I do during the day to refocus and recharge:
Take time to appreciate your accomplishments. I know with my mom I can get beat down by all the things I have presumably done wrong. But when I take stock of how I am balancing my life and her caregiving, well heck, I am doing a great job! Pat yourself on the back. Chances are you are doing everything you possibly can for a loved one. Know that and stop stressing. When you catch yourself beating yourself up about things you can't control, even a Disney song can provide inspiration—just “Let It Go."
Meditation. I spend 10 minutes—ideally in the morning—practicing my breathing and reciting a mantra. "I expand in abundance, success and love everyday as I inspire others to do the same." Then I breath in through the nose and out through the mouth twice. I repeat this for 10 minutes. I also practice at lunch. It helps me refocus for the afternoon and evening ahead. Because after my work day, it is not uncommon to have another six hours of caregiving chores ahead.
Take care of your own health. It doesn't take a long time to make a doctor's appointment for yourself. Do it while it's on your mind. Then you're locked into the commitment to take better care of yourself.
Laugh every day. Laughter has many of the same benefits of exercise. While driving in your car, listen to a comedy CD or tune in to the comedy channels on your satellite radio.
Call someone. You are not alone on this caregiving journey. Talking to someone helps. I know when I have been at my wits end, I call my wife while driving home from mom's. She talks me off the ledge so to speak. Find another family caregiver who can talk to you. Go to trusted sites like Caring.com, the Family Caregiver Alliance and the National Alliance for Caregiving. Check with your local area agency on aging. Find a caregiver support group, online or in person. Then, find a friend.
Find a caregiver community. There are many organizations out there that provide caregivers support and community. Lotsa Helping Hands is one I use. Spend 10 minutes each day finding tools that can ease your burden. There are even courses you can take advantage of.
Find the positive. Particularly at the end of the day, I recall three things that happened during the day for which I am grateful. Sometimes it's hard to find three. Sometimes a negative experience during the day has to be re-framed on a positive note by reflecting on what I have learned from it. You can write the three down if you like or just think about them. Over time watch what happens to your perspective!
Talk show host Leeza Gibbons tells caregivers to "Focus on what's left and not what's lost." By shifting our mindset and realizing we, too, might need care someday, we can enter each day with renewed hope and purpose. Just don't lose sight of taking care of yourself; it's vital so that you can take care of your loved one.