The Importance of Taking Care of YOU
I cared for my mother, who had end-stage COPD, for more than four years. It was tough, emotionally and physically, every day. Of course, it's much harder on the person who has COPD, but it's important that caregivers not forget to take care of themselves as well as their loved one. You'll have a better quality of life and you'll also be a better caregiver if you give yourself even half as much TLC as you're giving your parent or spouse or whoever you may be caring for.
Challenges of Caregiving
It might be hard to understand the toll that caregiving can take on a person unless you've lived through it. It's not just the physical work that's involved. It's also the stress of fitting in caregiving duties into an already busy life, watching someone you love struggle to breathe and to do ordinary daily activities.
The challenges will be different for each of us, but one thing is for sure... if you don't take care of yourself first, eventually you won't be able to continue as an effective caregiver. If you find yourself feeling down in the dumps, overly exhausted, having a "foggy" brain, losing your temper easily or using unhealthy coping mechanisms like excess food, alcohol or drugs, then it's time to take a step back. Reassess your situation and take action to care for yourself better.
How to Take Care of YOU
Here are some practical tips on caring for yourself:
Find a support system. Where you turn for support is a personal thing. Some people have a large, loving family or circle of friends they can lean on. If you do, don't be afraid to ask for help or just a shoulder to cry on, depending on your needs. Some people don't have a built-in support network though. So, you might need to look elsewhere. There are many support groups, both locally and online, that you can tap into. You might also find it helpful to read books on caregiving, or to keep a record of your thoughts and experiences in a journal. Find what works for you.
Take time off now and then. There is no reason to feel guilty about taking some time for you. When I was caring for my mother, I would go out to Zumba classes a few times a week. It was a wonderful hour of losing myself in music and movement and just forgetting for a short time about the stress. You might also ask a friend or family member to come in and sit with your loved one, if necessary so that you can get out of the house, for a few hours or even a couple of days. Or, maybe it's just about pampering yourself a little bit with a hot bath, a walk around the block or by listening to music. Figure out what re-charges your batteries and then do it!
Embrace a healthy lifestyle. When you are healthy mentally & physically, you will be better armed to deal with caregiving challenges. Make healthy food choices, drink a lot of water, get plenty of sleep, manage your stress and stay as active as you can.
Embrace the Rewards of Caregiving
I've been focusing mostly on the challenges of caregiving, but let's not forget that there are rewards too. I was so thankful to get to spend the last 4 years of my mom's life with her, after a couple of decades spent hundreds of miles apart. It was wonderful to have time to relive some of our old memories together and to reconnect in a meaningful way.
So, do take time to get past the duties of caregiving and to actually sit with your loved one and discuss not only the past, but also the present. Let them know that you understand how hard it can be to deal with a chronic illness and give up some of their independence.
Celebrate life together as long as you can!
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