Take Care of the Caregiver – How to Maintain Your Health and Sanity

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caregiverRecently, I was asked to comment on: “How to take care of the caregiver?” Are you caring for others? Finding yourself exhausted and overwhelmed? If so, this is for you.

How do you remember to take care of yourself when you’re a caregiver?
If we’re spent, depleted and exhausted, we don’t have much to give. As a caregiver, it’s crucial to take care of ourselves so we have the energy, focus and patience to deal with others within our care and reach. If possible, it’s best to plan our our self-care plan because “if we fail to plan, then plan to fail.” That may mean getting in a quick workout early in the day, planning out healthy meals and snacks so we have what we need vs. being at the mercy of whatever is available, and writing down what we need to do for ourselves on a daily basis as an appointment, if necessary. Just as we respect our other appointments, if we schedule time for “an appointment with ourselves,” it’s more likely it’ll get done.

How can you set limits between yourself/spouse/parent/siblings so that caring for others does not consume your life?
Boundaries get crossed when we let them and certain things need to be non-negotiable to be able to care for others well, like our sleep, healthy eating, exercise, downtime, etc. Guilt, being conditioned to care for everyone else before caring for ourselves and being “people pleasers” allow us to continually sacrifice our own self-care in order to care for others. Awareness is first, then understand that taking care of yourself can only benefit those you’re caring for. Simplify your self-care process (workout at home vs. traveling to the gym, create simple yet healthy meals vs. elaborate) and then implement until everyone recognizes that this is your routine… for everyone’s sake.

Any tips on not feeling selfish when you want time for yourself?
It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation. If you’re so exhausted and depleted, you’re giving everyone the worst of yourself vs. your best. Your intention is to be able to give your best and you can’t give what you don’t have. Refuel, replenish and revitalize yourself in order to give that to others. I call it “toxic mom guilt” because I see it with so many moms. But, when I ask them what they’d suggest if their child complained of not having a minute to themselves, feeling overextended and exhausted… they’re able to give the exact advice they need to take themselves.

Any tips on eating healthy when you’re in a hospital or caring for someone else and you’re about to make an unhealthy food choice?
It takes pre-planning to eat nutrient dense, whole, real food. It also means bringing healthy and portable snacks for when hunger strikes. Finally, it means getting off of sugar because cravings are at their highest when we’re eating a high-sugar diet.

What about working out when you’re too tired to do anything but eat junk food after caring for others?
When it’s at all possible, I always recommend working out in the morning. Your time is your own. As the day progresses, if exercise isn’t a priority, it’ll be the first thing to get bounced off the list to allow for extra time for something else. Getting a workout in early also sets a healthy tone for the day, gets your mind in the right place to take on challenges that may come up, and gives you a sense of accomplishment before the day gets started. It’s one of the healthiest habits to start and also allows you to be the great caregiver, role model and loving person you want to be.

How do YOU maintain your health and sanity while caring for others? We’d love to know, comment and share!

Photo from here, with thanks.

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May 2015
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