The R’s of caregiving – Caregiver self-care guide
“Self-care is giving the world the best of you instead of what’s left of you.”
You probably have heard about the R’s of recycling: Refuse, Reduce, Return, Refill, Repair, Reuse, Repurpose, Regift, Recycle. These simple, recognizable, and easily recalled words serve as cornerstones and guidance to waste management and environmental protection.
There are various R’s lists for many different fields. They are a psychological tool-set intended to help us remember and prioritize what is most important. Having easy guidelines and to-do reminders is always helpful in any aspect. So, why not implementing a set of R’s geared towards family caregivers? These R’s can help you care for yourself while you care for others, reduce caregiver stress and prevent caregiver burnout.
Why is caregiver self-care essential?
Caregiving can be very uplifting and rewarding, but there is no caregiver who hasn’t felt overwhelmed by constant demands. Continuous pressure comes with a considerable price tag. Too involved to satisfy the needs of others, most of the caregivers tend to overlook their personal needs, and, in the long run, this neglect negatively impacts their health.
Recent research of family caregivers in the United States shows a concerning decline in their self-reported health: 21% reported their health to be fair or poor. 23% said caregiving made their health worse than before. One in four family caregivers finds it difficult to take care of their own health (23%).
The wellness of caregivers directly correlates to their capacity to support and address other persons’ needs. Thus the wellbeing of a caregiver is also relevant for a care recipient. That is why the value of self-care for caregivers must not be disregarded. When we are providing care for a loved one, we must first take care of our own physical and mental health. Put yourself the oxygen mask first, remember? We must rest and recharge because no one can serve from an empty vessel. We must learn how to reduce and cope with the stress entailed in being a caregiver. It is impossible to protect ourselves from compassion fatigue and burnout without practicing self-care.
The R’s of caregiving and caregiver self-care
When we spend every day caring for others, entirely focused on them, it can lead to a place where we find ourselves exhausted and burned out. The pressure of knowing that we must continue no matter how we feel adds more to anxiety and depression. Those outcomes are not good, neither for ourselves nor, consequently, the persons we need to serve. The list of R’s for caregiver self-care comes in handy not just in the moments of the crisis and self-questioning but every day. The exact order of R’s here is not relevant, and all R’s are equally significant. One thing is for sure: the more of them you apply and make them your routine, the better you will feel.
As a caregiver, you are the pillar for your loved ones. Your actions greatly impact everyone around you. It can be stressful and overwhelming, and being composed is not always easy. It is normal to go through panic attacks, fears, doubting, despair. It is normal to cry. It is normal to freak out sometimes. When you feel like a balloon that is going to pop, give yourself a few alone moments to vent out. You can try slow counting to ten and the breathing exercise. Slow down your breathing with deep inhales and exhales. Go for a walk. Try to find someone to talk to and share your thoughts with. By remaining calm, you will have better control over the situation. You will be able to think more clearly about the priorities and what is necessary to do. You will also provide a positive influence on your surroundings.
The fact is that your daily life has changed with caregiving. You will probably need to reorganize many life segments if you want to structure better your new duties and align your personal needs and the needs of others. This might require a lot of changes at a time, but its whole purpose is to make your life as easier as possible. Try to look at this from a positive perspective. Allow yourself trials and changes – some things you will learn along the way, and with that, you will learn how to improve your organization. Caregiving brings new challenges every day, so be ready to change and adjust your routines frequently.
When restructuring your routines, consider using new technologies and digital tools to help you in your daily organization. There are many solutions created especially for caregivers and health and medication management, like Gherry App. Implementing them into your caregiving will ease your tasks and help you be on top of things.
You certainly sometimes feel overwhelmed by the many challenges of being a caregiver. If you are new in caregiving, many things might be a novelty and hard to accept and learn. Take a step back and think about what happened, what was the hardest for you to do or go through. Learn from your mistakes and take advice from other people. Based on your experiences, think of how you can reorganize to reduce the load and simplify your daily tasks.
Rethink your priorities. What is most important to you NOW? Even if you love a spotless house, homemade cookies, and ironed sheets, maybe that is not worthy of your energy and time at the moment. Give yourself a break from impossible expectations. By recognizing what is most important in your life at the moment, you can focus and channel your energy in that area. Try to think small first. Take things one day, one problem at a time. Resolving a series of smaller issues will give you a sense of accomplishment and a necessary confidence boost. When you’re feeling balanced and strong, zoom out to the big picture from time to time to make sure you’re on the right course.
Don’t think you can do it all by yourself. You are a superhero, but a helping hand is always welcome. Don’t be afraid to ask; people are usually very willing to help. Include family members, available friends, and community services if possible. Make a list of what would be helpful for you, and be prepared to give a specific task. Keep in mind a person’s interests when making assignments. In that way, helping you will not be a burden for them, and they will gladly do it another time. Sharing the load of tasks with others also offers you an opportunity to socialize or find some free time to relax.
Isolation and loneliness are often associated with caregiving. Although being with a care recipient most of the time, 21% percent (one out of five) of family caregivers of adult care recipients in the USA say they feel alone. Feeling not understood and just too tired frequently leads to alienating from any social life. It can be challenging to keep seeing friends and family while caregiving, and now even more with the pandemic measures still applying. There are many ways to maintain social connections. But, at least occasionally, you must go out. The company of others out of your daily routines and other surrounding will help you feel less isolated and prevent burnout. Also, consider finding help through local or online caregiver support groups and services. People who were or are going through the same as you can give you good advice and consolation.
Being frequently under constant pressure makes us forget how to relax. Like we are not allowed to lower the guard even for a moment. You are still you, although maybe everything around you has changed. You are probably changed too, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget your hobbies and favorite activities completely. You cannot give from an empty bucket, so you must find time to relax and recharge. It can be a quiet walk, a visit to the local market, a drink with a friend outside of your home, a hairdresser, or your favorite television show. You will indeed feel better and be able to face your daily challenges more efficiently.
Sleep deprivation and fatigue are, unfortunately, common caregiver problems. This increases the risk of depression and affects your overall physical and mental health. It isn’t just dangerous for you; it also puts your loved one at risk. As a crucial part of your self-care, it’s a must to allow yourself a break and find enough time to rest, whether it’s to catch some sleep or to enjoy some quiet alone time. If and when you can, take daily power naps. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you have a high-intensity care situation, organize shifts, or hire external help when you need to recharge.
“If you feel “burnout” setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself.”
You know that many devices require a simple reboot when they start glitching. Sometimes the humans need the same procedure. See what would work for you, what you need to clear up your mind and maybe change your current perspective of things. It can be a night of good sleep, a long walk, a bit of time in another environment, a film or a book. If you are in high-intensity care situation and if possible, consider respite care for a few days.
Let go! You are already doing all you possibly can with what you have and what you know. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything, particularly not all at once and without help. You are probably frequently questioning many things and yourself. Probably many ifs are in your head. If you try to change things over which you have no control, you will only waste your time and increase your frustration. Distinguish what you can and cannot change. Identify what depends directly on you and what is not up to you. For what is beyond your limits, ask for help and accept assistance. For what cannot be done, try to accept the new reality and go forward.
As much as you expect to be and should be respected for your noble caregiving work, don’t forget to respect the one you are taking care of. It’s the care recipients who suffer the most. In many cases, the care recipients’ inabilities and dependence lead them to frustration, anger, and depression. Remember that we all have dignity. Don’t ever belittle their true value by their current situation, and don’t forget who they are even if the situation changed them.
Remember why you are doing all this. Your fuel is love. Caring is giving from the heart. Talk about the past to revive fond memories and deep connections. Enjoy happy moments with your loved ones, family and friends. Remember that one day you will miss these days, even the most challenging ones. Remember to take it one day at a time because each new day is different. Some will be better, and some will be worse. Remember to smile and laugh as often as you can – humor heals and helps put things into perspective. Last but not least: remember that you are an amazing and exceptional person for what you do for others.
Remember these 12 R’s (in no specific order), and if you have your own R’s that are not mentioned here, add them to the list. Make your version to use as your personal caregiving mantra. Repeat them whenever you need a reminder and a motivation to go on.
- REMAIN CALM
- REMAIN SOCIAL
Caregiver self-care is more than just taking care of personal needs – it’s a conscious, intentional preparation to care for others. By caring for yourself, you are caring for others too. It’s a necessity and a priority, not a luxury. This is your foundation to serve others better. Use these R’s as guides, and try to follow them as often as you can. Start now! Don’t leave if for next Monday, next month or when you maybe find more time. Make it a routine to show yourself the same compassion you show others. You deserve it.