How To Work Self-Care Into Your Family Caregiving Plan – Guest post by author June Duncan

The following is written by June Duncan, author of The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers, coming in Winter 2018. Click the link for more information. 

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How to Work Self-Care Into Your Family Caregiving Plan

When your life revolves around caring for another person, it’s hard to make time for yourself. But if you don’t, you could end up burning out, leaving you unable to continue caring for your loved one.

Caregiver burnout is a serious problem for people caring for elderly family members. It’s known to contribute to depression, concentration problems, and substance abuse, and even leads some caregivers to mistreat or neglect their family member in need. The cause? Chronic stress from neglecting your own needs as you care for another’s. For that reason and more, it’s important that family caregivers find ways to fit self-care into their schedule.

First, healthy meals should be part of any caregiver’s day. Preparing nutrient-dense meals is not only good for the senior in your care, it also ensures you get the nutrition you need to keep illness at bay. Develop a list of healthy meals you can prepare in 30 minutes or less to take the guesswork out of mealtime. When finding time to grocery shop for ingredients is a challenge, grocery delivery services or food subscription boxes can simplify the process.

Likewise, committing at least 30 minutes per day to moderate exercise like walking or gardening helps caregivers meet the activity levels recommended for physical health. If you exercise alongside your family member, it helps their health as well and provides an opportunity to bond — plus, finding time to exercise is easier when you can bring your charge along. For more vigorous exercise, consider signing up for a fitness class at a center that also offers classes for seniors so you both can benefit.

To round out the physical health side of things, ensure you get plenty of sleep each night. Not only does poor or insufficient sleep limit your ability to cope with stress and control your emotions, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute it could also contribute to depression, increase the risk of chronic health problems, and lead to dangerous mistakes like giving the wrong dose of a medication.

Of course, your needs go beyond the physical. It’s also important to take care of your mental health so you have the capacity to treat your family member with patience and kindness rather than reaching for alcohol or drugs to alleviate stressors. This may seem simple enough at the beginning, but stay true to yourself even when things get really tough.

Chronic stress, like the tension many family caregivers experience, can lead to serious mental health problems that include depression, anxiety, addiction, and even cognitive impairment later in life. And although many people don’t realize it, stress is also intimately connected to physical health: According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can cause muscle pain and digestive problems, suppress the immune system, raise blood pressure, and contribute to serious illnesses like heart disease and obesity. Since stress can affect every aspect of your health, it’s clear that keeping it under control needs to be a priority.

To manage stress while providing caregiving, identify stress relief techniques you can apply throughout the day, like flowing through a meditative yoga sequence, practicing 4-7-8 breathing, calling a supportive friend, taking a power nap, or visualizing a relaxing scene. Each of these stress-reduction strategies can be done in 10 minutes or less and requires nothing more than a quiet space, so you can employ them at a moment’s notice when you need relief.

It’s not unusual for family caregivers to feel guilty about taking time away from their charge, but self-care is an essential component of a sustainable caregiving plan. When you take care of your own physical and mental health first, you’re better equipped to handle the challenges of caregiving with dedication and grace.

Image via Unsplash

Writing is action, and my body feels it.

After several months of crazy making stress and poor sleep (thank you cancer!), I finally had a few hours to concentrate on writing. I had outlined this new project, but had zero time to concentrate and write actual scenes. But yesterday, I wrote for two and a half glorious, painful, difficult, wonderful hours. My hands cramped, my vision blurred, and my stomach knotted from all that coffee, but in the end, I had 750 lovely words.

Yes, 750 words in 2 and a half hours. Not exactly what you’d call productivity, but still… I wrote!

I wrote actual words on my lap top and filled in the rough draft of chapter one of a brand new project. My brain strained with the effort, shaking off apathy and searching for writing skills I’d allowed to atrophy. With each word I typed, I felt more myself. A writer.

But after 2 and a half hours my hands ached and I was forced to stop. That night I had pain in my arms and the following day pain in my shoulders. I’m not used to sitting still, concentrating hard, for that length of time. You might think writing is only a cerebral activity, but writing includes arm muscles, hand muscles, straining eyes and a numb butt. Just like any activity, you have to work up to the marathon hours.

I’m eager to lock myself away somewhere for several days and write. First, I need to work my body up to that much typing and writing. Today, i am in training. I’m writing the rough draft of my new novel. Painful, awful… even the writing is strained. In a few months, I’ll be ready to put in hours each day on the first draft. That is my favorite time. Writing hour after hour until I enter the zone. That’s what I call bliss.