A Year-End Commitment To Healthy Caregiving

caregiver resolutions for self care

by Ed Moran, LCSW

Well, it’s that time of year again. Out with the old and in with the new.   Each January 1st we vow to make drastic changes in the way we live our lives. We promise to eat healthier, lose weight, get more exercise, or quit smoking. We vow to spend more time with those we love, and less time with those who bring us down. We pledge each year to be nicer, to work harder, and to stop losing our temper in traffic.

We make these promises with the best of intentions, though I’m sure we can agree that most often our expectations are unrealistic. After all, trying to keep these resolutions will require significant time, effort and emotional energy, none of which the average caregiver can spare.

Caring for a sick loved one can easily take over your life. Whether you’re by their side at all times or not, it’s an enormous commitment that monopolizes your thoughts and emotions. Indeed, it starts to feel like we exist for the sole purpose of meeting their needs. Many take on this role without a second thought. Others feel pressured to take it on and maybe don’t even realize what kind of responsibility they’ve undertaken. Either way, full-time caregivers have very little brain space left over with which to engage New Year’s resolutions. That’s not to say the need isn’t there, that there aren’t things we can do to help handle emotional pressure and lead healthier lives.

For example: 

  • Make an effort to have at least a few minutes of “me” time each day. Read a chapter in a book, watch a television show, take a short walk, or take a hot bath. Whatever suits you.
  • Avoid using alcohol to relax. This can be tempting, especially during the holidays, but it usually creates more problems than it solves.
  • Utilize your support system. If someone’s offering to pick up groceries for you or take the kids to school, let them. It will benefit everyone involved.
  • Try to get some rest. While it can be difficult to sleep when you’re worried about someone you love, it’s critical to recharge.
  • Set realistic expectations. You can only do so much on your own. Do not view your human limitations as a failure — nothing could be further from the truth. Do what you can and take pride in your efforts.
  • Give yourself permission to take a break. Taking some time for yourself or leaning on someone’s shoulder doesn’t make you a bad caregiver. It makes you a human being.
  • Join a caregiver support group. Connecting to people with shared experiences can prevent you from feeling isolated.
  • Seek professional help. The stress of caregiving and facing the decline of someone you love can result in feelings of depression. Consult a trained counselor, who can provide healthy tools and strategies for coping.

One of the most common reasons we’re unsuccessful with New Year’s resolutions is that we’ve never really developed a plan for how to accomplish them. Managing the stress and distress associated with caregiving is no different. Your plan should begin with the affirmation that you deserve to take a break. Self-care is a vital tool for being the best caregiver you can possibly be. Apply leisurely and repeat.

 

Ed Moran, LCSW, is a clinical social worker with Family Centers. Serving Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, CT, and Westchester County, NY, Family Centers is a United Way, New Canaan Community Foundation and Community Fund of Darien partner agency that offers counseling and support programs for children, adults and families. For information, call 203-869-4848 or visit www.familycenters.org.



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