I signed up for my caregiving journey quickly. My strong, healthy, WWII-hero Dad had to be taken off an airplane in a wheelchair. He had gotten so sick during the flight the attendants were concerned for his well-being.
It turned out he had walking pneumonia due to exhaustion from caring for my Mom who was beginning to show signs of dementia.
Once he stabilized, I offered my help – which he accepted immediately. I was off and running as their caregiver. We began a complicated dance as our roles began shifting. I found myself in new territory with no road map. It was scary and nerve-wracking.
So many of us begin our caregiving experience without a chart to navigate these new waters. We dive in feeling an urgent need to care for those who need us. When the unexpected happens, we do not hesitate for a moment. We can find ourselves feeling lost, exhausted, and overwhelmed.
As I traveled on my caregiving journey, I learned and developed various techniques and tactics that soothed my body and soul. They helped me survive the challenging times. I found the following 10 tips instrumental in showing me the way. I share them with you so you, too, can find comfort when you need it.
You cannot do everything at once. We all love to swoop in and make everything better immediately. The reality is that everyone involved needs a period of adjustment. Rome was not built in a day. Take it easy. Let yourself adjust gradually.
You are running a marathon, so get to know your own pace. Exertion then exhaustion is not the answer. Find a physical and mental rhythm for yourself as soon as you can by being aware of how much you can do in a given day. Then give yourself a break and rest. Things can crop up unexpectedly, and if you have no reserve for the unexpected you will find it exhausting.
This was a really hard one for me. On occasion, I was able to understand my limitations and accept them with self-compassion. We can’t be in all places at all times, and we can’t know or understand all things. Admitting we need help or professional advice is a positive step to managing our lives and those we care for. Be honest with yourself about how much you can do.
For some reason, this tip is the hardest for caregivers to accept and carry out. We soldier on alone believing that dependence on others is a sign of weakness. Asking for help indicates failure as a caregiver. Nothing however, can be further from the truth. Caregiving takes a village, and you need and deserve assistance. Reach out and ask for help. You will be surprised and pleased by where it comes from.
Good, healthy and substantial meals are weapons! They give you stamina and strength. Making the time to eat healthy meals is an absolute must. When you can, eat them with those you care for. Healthy food and good company stimulates appetite and gives you the chance to spend quality time together.
How are you feeling? It’s so easy to be on alert for the mood and emotional state of those we care for. At the same time, it is hard to be aware of our own feelings. If we focus on our state of mind and heart it is easier to take the appropriate measures to find emotional balance. Relaxing, talking to someone, getting rest, and taking a break are just a few of the antidotes to feeling upset or unruly.
I find this one hard even when not caregiving. The benefits definitely far outweigh the dread! With the invention of YouTube, anyone can exercise anytime and anywhere. Especially in the comfort of their own home!
There are thousands of workout, yoga, cardio, and tai chi videos available for free online. Never rush into a class or workout that’s above your ability or without checking with your doctor first. There are wonderful free resources to help you take a much-needed break during the day or evening to get fit and keep moving. If that’s too overwhelming, take a walk around the block. Or as my Dad did, walk up and down your apartment hallways numerous times. He could put in a mile that way! Being fit makes you feel better, builds stamina, reduces stress, and keeps your immune system humming. Just do it!
One of the first things many Caregivers do is focus intensely on the lives of those they care for and put their own on the back burner. Although this selfless act is indeed commendable, it’s also dangerous. When we cut ourselves off from the things that give us joy and fulfill us we become frustrated and despondent.
We begin to resent our caregiving duties and those we care for. Our own life can feel stagnant and meaningless, even though we are doing great service. Do yourself and those you care for a favor and find the time and energy to do something for yourself. Reach out and find backup to give you a chance for “me” time. Where there is a will there is a way.
In my opinion, if you have a spiritual affiliation or belief that allows you to believe in a power greater than yourself, lean on that power. I have often called on Angels both human and heavenly. I believe I am always heard. Miraculous things happen. As I look back on my caregiving journey I am amazed at some of the inexplicable help and guidance I received in so many forms.
Meditation, stopping to take a quiet few minutes, or just finding a place you can sit in silence or speak to a higher power can make all the difference in your life. There are wonderful sources for meditation in both books and online. YouTube has lovely guided meditations of all lengths. There are wonderful free apps for your phone or tablet or iPad.
Take a break, clear your mind and breathe, if only for 5 minutes. With this simple gesture, you are finding the power within and without.
My caregiving journey was one that changed my life and the way I lived it. The challenges were extraordinary and so were the gifts. Navigating the waters for the first time seemed dangerous and overwhelming, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in the world. I hope you find these tips helpful and they empower you along your way. May your journey be blessed.
Have you felt alone and overwhelmed as a Caregiver? Do you have a favorite go-to remedy to help you be more comfortable in your role as a Caregiver? Do you have any other caregiver tips to share? Please join the conversation.
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