I have been a caregiver to my mom for over 15 years. I have been there to help set up medical appointments, take her to her appointments, manage her care afterward and assist with any follow up that is necessary based on the instructions provided at the appointments. I perform weekly grocery shopping to ensure that my mom has the necessary essentials for maintaining her nutrition. I additionally perform household chores around her apartment including organizing and paying bills as well as cleaning. It can be difficult at times to keep your life organized to perform all of the duties expected of you at your own home, work and keep up with other activities that pull you in so many directions. Sometimes a little guidance would be helpful.
If you have ever flown, you are familiar with the emergency protocol the flight attendants share with you before takeoff. If an oxygen mask descends in front of you, what do you do? As we all know, the first rule is to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else. Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. Caring for yourself is one of the most important – and one of the most often forgotten – things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit too.
I know that it can be consuming, overwhelming and exhausting. There can also be moments of peace and celebration of goals met. It has taken me most of the 15 years to figure out that I need to put the figurative “oxygen mask” on myself first before I am able to really care for others.
I believe there are 3 components to caring for yourself. They are caring for your body or physical health, your mind or mental health and for your spiritual or faith/perspective. I will give some suggestions for each component, however, you are best served discovering what these are for you personally.
First of all, it is important for you to recognize what your body needs. Listen to what it is telling you and then act accordingly. You may need to take action to prevent injury, treat injury or just get moving. I personally like to walk daily. I also try to cycle 2 times per week and I set aside time to stretch on Saturday. A lot of times I will walk while praying or stretch while meditating allowing me to combine some of the spiritual and mental health aspects with my physical activities. Some other suggestions include, but not limited to, are hiking, Tai Chi, rock climbing, joining a gym, doing yoga or jogging. The most effective activity is one that you enjoy and one that is convenient to fit into your schedule allowing you to do it regularly without finding excuses not to do it.
Secondly, caring for your mind or your mental health can be complex but discovering a mindful practice in healthy. I myself like to take time to enjoy activities such as reading, rock climbing, spending time with my children and meditating while walking as I mentioned before. Some other suggestions that can be helpful are connecting with a support group, taking with friends or family members, personal or family counseling, getting respite care so you can have a break. It is necessary to identify and acknowledge ALL of your emotions and thoughts and not push aside or ignore how you are feeling.
Finally, your spiritual health is the third component. Spiritual health like physical health and mental health is a key sport of who we are and it is important to treat it accordingly. I myself, like to pray when I walk. I also read the bible frequently and have set up meetings regularly with the spiritual director of the diocese of Cincinnati. Some other suggestions for you to improve your spiritual health are to read a daily devotional, attend a retreat, join a bible study, take a trip with a church group to help other and take time to reflect on your beliefs.
Premier Physical Therapy Services would like to support you in your self care and health. Please join us on February 19th for an evening of, Caring for the Caregiver. We will have details soon at each location. Please watch for them, ask your therapist or the front desk for details.
Written by Debbie Jones, PTA