Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Basics...Guest Author

As a caregiver, it’s natural to make your loved one a priority. However, it’s necessary to make yourself a priority as well.

When caregivers take on the responsibility of looking after a loved one, they can get so caught up in their new role that they forget to take care of their own needs. It’s certainly tough to juggle two different sets of responsibilities. However, without a healthy balance, caregivers become at risk for low to high levels of anxiety, fatigue, irritability and even depression.

It’s extremely important for caregivers not to forego their own needs while taking care of their loved one. Their physical and emotional wellbeing is just as important as the patient’s. Paying equal attention to both sets of needs can help caregivers stay mentally balanced and strong throughout the caregiving experience.

Meeting Physical Needs

As a caregiver, you may need to help your loved one with a number of physical needs, such as showering, toileting, getting dressed, brushing their teeth and light physical activity. Just as it is essential to help them maintain their physical health, it’s important not to let yours slip by the wayside as well.

Some caregivers find it helpful to set aside a block of time each day to handle their basic physical needs, especially physical activity like walking, jogging, yoga, swimming or biking. Other caregivers prefer to tackle one activity at a time in between caregiving duties. Whichever route you choose, don’t ignore your own physical needs.

Sleep is another crucial physical need – but one of the easiest for caregivers to pass over. You may feel tempted to shave a few hours off each night’s sleep to accommodate your busier-than-ever schedule, but your overall productivity can suffer if you don’t get enough rest each day. Stress-induced insomnia can also complicate your sleeping patterns, but various relaxation therapies or breathing techniques can help you get your sleep schedule back on track.

Meeting Emotional Needs

Caregivers shouldn’t subject themselves to unreasonable expectations. This can readily lead to disappointment and frustration.

You are there to care for your loved one and make them feel as comfortable and happy as possible.  You are not responsible for curing their illness or extending their life span. As you care for them, take a realistic view of what you can and cannot do for them. Don’t beat yourself up for things you cannot control.

Allow yourself to fully feel the emotions that you are feeling, and then look for a way to address them.
·        If you feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to take a step back and release your frustration. If necessary, separate yourself from the situation until you’ve returned to a calmer state of mind.

·        Talk to a friend or a fellow caregiver. Simply discussing the challenges can relieve stress.

·        If you’re having trouble identifying or fully coping with these emotions, consider reaching out to a mental health professional  or a support group.

Don’t forget to make time for your favorite stress-relieving activities. Whether it is exercise, meditation, cooking or even just dinner with friends, be sure to give yourself time to engage in these activities to reduce your anxiety in a healthy manner.  When you feel balanced and calm, you’re able to provide the highest level of care to your loved one, which makes the experience more rewarding for everyone involved.

Author bio: Faith Franz researches and writes about health-related issues for The Mesothelioma Center. One of her focuses is living with cancer.

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