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Caregiving While Taking Care of Yourself

Caregiving can be a full-time job. And if you've already got other responsibilities -- like a family and another full-time job -- it's easy to put yourself last.

Caregivers can't sacrifice their own well-being and risk caregiver burnout. You're not the only one who will suffer. If you're strung out and exhausted all the time, you won't be much help to your loved one. So for everyone's sake, take care of yourself.

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  • Delegate. You can't do everything yourself, so don't try. Get other family members and friends involved in caregiving. Ask for help with specific things. Have your brother do a round of grocery shopping. See if a neighbor can keep an eye on things for half an hour while you clear your head. Look into community resources and see what sort of help is available.
  • Get support. You may find that your friends have trouble understanding what you're going through as a caregiver. So seek out people who will understand -- join a caregiver support group. Other caregivers can offer a sympathetic ear as well as practical advice. To find one, try the local Area Agency on Aging or the Eldercare Locator. Online groups -- like WebMD's Caregiving Support Group -- are another great way to connect with caregivers.
  • Don't neglect your own health. You may spend so much of your day fretting about your loved one's health that you forget about your own body. Don't let that happen. As a caregiver, you should get regular checkups. Try to eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep. Of course, given your responsibilities, stresses, and time constraints, that's easier said than done. But your health has to be a priority. When caregivers get sick, their loved ones' care may suffer, too. 
  • Get psychological help. Caregiving is intense, emotionally draining, and often isolating. Being a caregiver puts you at increased risk of anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems. If you're concerned that you might be getting depressed -- or if you're just feeling overwhelmed -- do something about it. Set up an appointment with a counselor or therapist.
  • Prioritize. As a caregiver, you'll have more things to do in a day than you have time to do. So focus on the essentials and let the less important stuff go. The world won't end if you put off cleaning out the shed for a few months or if you skip hosting the New Year's party this year. 
  • Stay connected. Many caregivers find that their focus on a sick relative can strain their relationships with their friends, and especially with their spouses and children. Sometimes, it's unavoidable. But make a conscious effort to stay connected to the people you care about. As a caregiver, you need their love and their support more than ever. 
  • Consider taking a leave from work. For many caregivers, taking time off work is not an option financially. But remember that the federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick relative. 
  • Stay active. Keeping up an exercise routine when you're a caregiver isn't easy -- you may feel you have way too much to do as it is. But taking time out most days of the week for some physical activity -- even just a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood -- will help improve your mood and increase your energy. 
  • Forgive yourself. As a caregiver, you're going to get frustrated with your loved one. At times, you're going to feel angry and resentful. These are perfectly natural feelings. They come with the responsibilities of being a caregiver. Don't beat yourself up for feeling them. 
  • Remember your limitations. All you can do is help. A caregiver can't single-handedly keep another person healthy, safe, and happy every second of every day. 
  • Take breaks. If you push yourself too hard, if you go too long without a break, you'll burn out. So try to build small breaks into every day and do something special for yourself every week. See a movie with a friend, get a massage, or go for a swim.
  • Look into respite care. Respite care is relief for caregivers who need a break. The details vary -- sometimes it's provided by volunteers, sometimes by professionals for a cost. It might only be for a few hours or for a few days. Use your local Area Agency on Aging or the Eldercare Locator to find out about respite care in your area.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 12, 2012

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