How to Be an Effective Caregiver
I went back to school in January; so you could imagine how surprised I was to find myself not only as a full-time student but also as a caregiver. Becoming a full-time student was planned, but becoming a full-time caregiver happened suddenly and unexpectedly. This year, my octogenarian mother moved in with my husband and me. Although she could do a few things for herself, such as bathe and dress herself, I found it still challenging to balance school, meal preps, and visits to doctors and physical therapists with my online job. But call it synchronicity or serendipity, I found myself actually having to apply what I was learning in my integrative health classes. I had to put my self-care first, for the way I cared for myself would directly impact my mother. I began to experience and understand deeply that in order to be an effective caregiver my self-care had to be a priority.
One of the main issues facing all caregivers is the level of stress involved in attending to someone. No doubt, caregiving is hard work, and many caregivers find themselves burned out because of the physical and emotional strain of caregiving. According to womenshealth.gov, some of the ways stress affects caregivers include:
- Depression and anxiety. Women who are caregivers are more likely than men to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Weak immune system. Stressed caregivers may spend more days sick with the cold or flu. A weak immune system can also make vaccines such as flu shots less effective. Also, it may take longer to recover from surgery.
- Obesity. Stress causes more weight gain in women than in men. Obesity raises your risk for other health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
- Higher risk for chronic diseases. High levels of stress can raise your risk for health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis.
- Problems with short-term memory or paying attention. Caregivers of spouses with Alzheimer disease are at higher risk for problems with short-term memory and focusing.
Barriers to self-care
Lack of self-care
Self-care is not a simple matter. Many caregivers are aware of its importance, but sadly many only wake up to this truth when a lack of self-care leads to a reduction of the quality of life for themselves and their loved one or client.
That’s what happened to Selene, a 48-year-old married mother of two. Her 70-year-old mother came to live with her after a stroke left her paralyzed, unable to speak clearly, and cognitively impaired. After nine years of caring for her mother, Selene’s health deteriorated:
But in May of 2017, she says, “we finally reached a point where we knew in our hearts that we could not provide the care that my mom needed. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. My mom was having respiratory issues, and we were dealing with teenager issues. That was our sign that it was finally time to stop being caregivers because we had to care for ourselves and our children.” It was necessary to place Donna in a care facility.
Living out the reality of self-care as a caregiver involves a paradigm shift, that is, to be a good caregiver means to take good care of yourself.
Perception of selfishness
Self-care is not selfish. It’s the practice of filling your cup so that you can pour into the lives of others. An empty cup is a life depleted of energy, motivation, empathy, compassion and eventually presence.
Signs that you are not replenishing yourself are:-
What are your emotions asking you to pay attention to? Self-care calls for you to pay attention to these emotions.
Not making time
Caregivers must create time for self-care and self-nourishment activities; for not having enough time is an obstacle to self-care. You are the only one who can prioritize your own self-care. To care for self, time is needed to connect with your inner being.
The sacrifice of self-care leads to caregiver burnout. For instance, it is not uncommon for family caregivers to make sacrifices for their loved ones to make sure they are comfortable and that they have peace of mind. Professional caregivers face the same burden of care as well. Additionally, thinking they are indispensable, or believing that no one can do the job of care giving as well as they can, is an illusion. Life does not stop with or without you.
There are five dimensions of self-care: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social.
Regular exercise and healthy eating habits are essential for optimal physical wellness.
Examples of physical self-care:
- Go for a walk.
- Try a new form of exercise/ movement like Tai chi or qigong.
- Eat your favorite nourishing foods.
- Get some extra sleep.
- Get a massage, facial, acupuncture, etc.
The desire to learn new concepts, improve skills and seek challenges in pursuit of lifelong learning contributes to your intellectual wellness.
Examples of intellectual self-care:
- Read a book.
- Read positive affirmations.
- Take a workshop or class.
- Schedule five minutes of “thinking time”.
- Have a great conversation that inspires.
The ability to understand yourself and cope with the challenges of life can bring emotional stability.
Examples of emotional self-care:
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Diffuse some essential oils.
- Connect with a good friend.
- Savor your favorite specialty coffee.
- Join a caregiver support group.
Developing a spiritual core can help you strive for a state of harmony with oneself and others.
- Get out in nature.
- Read an inspiring book.
- Participate in mindfulness practices.
- Attend a religious service.
- Volunteer for a cause that means something to you.
Your ability to establish and maintain positive relationships with family, friends, and coworkers contributes to your social wellness.
- Take a walk (or exercise) with friends.
- Take a class on caregiving or mindfulness.
- Call a friend.
Self-care replenishes your body, keeps your immune system balanced, keeps you energized, increases connection and generates positive emotions.
How we can help you
Intervention Associates (IVA) can help you carry the load as a caregiver. Care managers are fully trained and experienced in supporting the home care needs of their clients. IVA care managers work tirelessly to take the burden away from family/friend care givers to access the needed supports, oversee and coordinate home care and make sure your loved one has everything they need to live the fullest and best life at home. When (or if) the time comes to help your family member move into a new supported environment, IVA care managers have years and years of experience and knowledge of community residential programs where people can live out their lives more safely and comfortably.
IVA care managers take the burden of care, the challenges of coordinating and overseeing services off the shoulders of family members through their intensive and comprehensive work. Our goal is to relieve the family of the pressures of care giving so that they can enjoy their time with their loved one.