Caregivers are my heroes. Seriously. Forget the men and women in capes. Caregivers are the ones with superpowers. Unfortunately, superpowers come with a price -- burnout and stress. Those caring for their aging loved ones just might be on the verge of an emotional breakdown on any given day, at any given moment. If you're a caregiver, you know what I'm talking about. But what can be done? After all, someone's world is sitting squarely on your shoulders, right? Perhaps, but that doesn't mean you don't have to take care of yourself.
Here are some suggestions on how you can prevent your own health crisis while caring for someone else.
1. Figure out a way to get enough rest. I know, you're already rolling your eyes on that one. As if... But the facts are that you need your rest. Somehow, you have to make it a priority. Studies conducted at the University of California, Berkeley revealed high levels of anxiety in sleep-deprived individuals. Elderly patients, particularly those who are suffering from some kind of dementia, need caregivers who are calm, not zombie-like family members who are ready to snap at the slightest provocation.
Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Turn off or silence your cell phone so you are not awakened by message notifications. Make sure the room is dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature.
If you are "on-call" throughout the night, you know what it's like to sleep with one ear and one eye open. Most likely, you never get a full-night's rest. In that case, you might want to consider employing outside help to relieve you of nighttime duty one or two nights per week. The difference in your ability to cope will be well worth it. Talk to family members, friends, or folks from your church or civic organization. See if they'd be willing to cover for you from time-to-time. Or call a local in-home care company, like the one we have in Pittsburgh, and ask to have someone cover the shifts.
2. Swap volunteer duties with someone. Does your neighbor walk dogs at the local animal shelter? Does your cousin serve up meals at the city mission? Maybe someone you know could use a change -- you take their role for a day and they can take yours. Often, change is just what the doctor ordered!
3. Pace yourself. Rushing around stirs up anxiety and often leads to accidents and mistakes. Hastily preparing a meal on the stove can result in a burn. Hurrying down the stairs to throw soiled bed linens into the washer can have you tripping over the corner of a sheet and tumbling head-first into the basement. Now how are you going to care for your loved one when you're hobbling around on crutches... or worse?
4. Keep plenty of healthy snacks on hand. Fuel your energy with foods that are right for you. Avoid gluten if you're sensitive. Watch the bad carbs if you're diabetic. Skip the string cheese if you're lactose-intolerant. Pay attention to your body and treat it well with the right nutrition throughout the day.
5. Pause for mediation and/or prayer. Researchers at UCLA discovered that 65 percent of family caregivers who practiced daily meditation for eight weeks improved their moods and fought off depression by 50 percent. And all it takes is a mere 12 minutes per day.
Stress is inevitable in any type of caregiving situation. But it is manageable. You just need to take off your cape and look to your needs as well as to the needs of others.