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Caring for Caregivers

November is National Caregivers Awareness Month.

It is no secret that caregivers of family members give a lot. They may spend countless hours talking on the phone to physicians, nurses, therapists, or health insurance agencies. Many spend so much time in classes or doing research they could be honorary-degree holders. They drive their loved ones to appointments, make sure they take their medication, help them complete day-to-day tasks, and provide emotional support when they are scared, angry, or hurting. And for many caregivers, there is often no finish line in sight.

The stress and worry of being a full-time caregiver can take a toll on emotional, physical, and mental health, not including careers and family lives. Caregiving is focusing on the needs of others at the expense of the needs of another. If a caregiver has poor mental or physical health, it makes the job all the more challenging. While caregivers may not be able to engage in self-care every day if you are a caregiver, we’ve collected a few ways you can start to care for yourself.

Allow Yourself to Feel

Many caregivers condition themselves to ignore their own emotions, pushing on to do what needs to be done. This will catch up to you eventually. Caregivers often feel a range of emotions from apathy, grief, sadness, despondency, or even anger at any moment. Do not try to suppress or dismiss uncomfortable or painful emotions. Instead, acknowledge them, label them aloud and let them sit within you. Until you are able to confront your emotions, they’ll continue to resurface again and again.
Work with a Professional
While it is easy to vent to family and friends about your struggles, many are not always available to help, emotionally or physically. Talk to someone who is trained and can provide impartial support as you manage your emotions. A trained mental health professional can help you keep strong and healthy for the challenges ahead.

Find Time for Exercise

Exercise is not only important for our physical health, but for mental health as well. Find an activity that you enjoy and schedule it into your daily or weekly routine. You might find your challenges more manageable after that run, bike ride, or Zumba class.

Have a Hobby

Find something that you love to do, or haven’t had time to do in years, and integrate it into your life as much as you can. Hobbies keep you present – a vital tool in cognitive behavioral therapy. A hobby can also bring you joy, reignite passions, and give you respite when times get tough. If nothing else, a hobby can give you something to look forward to each day.

Forgive Yourself

This may be the most challenging task of all. We often blame ourselves when anything goes wrong. It is easy to question missteps we’ve made or times that we’ve said something we regret or lost control of our temper. Making mistakes is part of being a caregiver and a human. Ensuring your loved one has support and love will help both of you overcome any hurdles down the road.
If you’re putting lots of effort into caring for your loved one, safe-care might seem selfish or a completely foreign concept. Self-care has long-term benefits and it is important to still feel like yourself outside of your role as a caregiver. What you can do to help yourself will make you stronger and more resilient, even during darker days. Investments in yourself can also be investments in how you care for your loved one.

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