When loved ones go to the hospital for serious illnesses or are homebound for a long recovery periods, family members and friends step in to help out. It’s usually one relative or close friend, however, that takes on the bulk of the caregiving duties.
If that person is you, it’s imperative that you pay attention to your own health and well being while under pressing new caregiver demands.
The following is a game plan for ensuring that you don’t succumb to debilitating stress (or ill health) while caring for your loved one.
Give Up Control
If you can delegate some duties and set expectations for your other family and friends from the outset, you’ll be in better shape as the days pass and troubles come and go.
As a primary caregiver, you’re a bit of a volunteer. You rose to the occasion and accepted a lot of responsibilities that you may know very little about. You take down notes from the doctors and nursing staff. You research diseases, prescriptions and procedures online. You try to understand everything that’s going on, as if you were the CEO of some large, complex company.
You’re also coordinating communications with relatives and friends, scheduling visits, coordinating travel arrangements for those that come from afar, and trying to keep your own personal sanity in check.
You must give up some of that in order to maintain your health and well-being. Do not go it alone.
Tap relatives and friends to do the work you can’t, and have everyone chip in with their own personal talents and skills. For one thing, they’ll thank you for it and appreciate being involved. For another, they’ll bring skills you may not have to the table.
One way to start this practice is to keep a master list of “to-dos” and start doling out tasks to people as they offer to help. Your friends and family are good people. They’ll step up as needed.
Take Personal Time
This one seems utterly selfish, but it’s crucial. Sometimes you’re going to need breaks where you just veg, read a book, go to a movie or have a social night that has nothing to do with your loved one’s ailments. You need personal time to escape from reality and recharge your batteries.
Don’t let guilt get in the way. It will only hurt you more. Your loved one needs your best assistance and care when it matters most. They will understand that you need to recover and release from time to time.
Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
The trauma and tragedy of serious illness come at a price. Your mind reels at all the possible outcomes. You become upset with healthcare professionals that don’t meet your expectations. You’re frustrated with all the overwhelming information coming your way. And that’s just the small stuff.
The prospect of long term disability or even the death of your loved one plays brutal tricks on the mind. You’ll likely encounter the classic “7 Stages of Grief”:
Shock and denial
Pain and guilt
Anger and bargaining
Depression, reflection and lonliness
Adjustment and uplift
Reconstruction and working through
Acceptance and hope
As part of this process, you’ll need to connect more deeply with friends and family. You’ll want to talk things through and get your thoughts out into the open so you can release them and work through everything that’s going on. You may also need to seek help from a mental health professional. They are highly skilled at navigating people through troubled waters.
Don’t Ignore Your Physical Health
Take a walk, a jog, a swim or play your favorite sport. Physical exercise helps your brain cope with stress by releasing endorphins and boosting your mood.
It’s going to be difficult to find the time for exercise, but don’t ignore the need. Schedule it, and get it done. You’ll be happier and more useful to those who depend on you as a result.
The same goes for diet. Pay attention to what you’re eating and try not to slip into bad habits. Comfort food is great, but just don’t let it be junk food.
Make sure you’re eating enough, as well, and don’t overeat as a comforting strategy. Major stress and trauma tend to make people either ignore food altogether or mask their pain by overeating. Make sure you moderate.
Also, don’t miss any of your own doctor’s appointments or other health regimes just because you’re consumed with caregiver duties. Take time to go to your gym, take your vitamins and got to the dentist, for example. You don’t want to join your loved one in sickness. If you’re healthy, you’re much more able to provide the care needed by your loved one.
Follow this simple plan, and you’ll have a much easier time handling the tough days and difficult decisions that come with the territory.