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4 Tips for How to Stay Healthy as a Caregiver

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I served as a caregiver for my ailing grandfather for two years leading up to his death in the summer of 2017. While I enjoyed the time I spent with my grandfather during this time, the day-to-day responsibilities of caregiving could be stressful physically, emotionally and mentally in ways I did not anticipate. In hindsight, I could have avoided some of these hardships if I had a conversation with one of the 43.5 million Americans who have served as informal caregivers to ailing and/or disabled family members.

Here are a few tips based on what I wish I knew when beginning my journey as a caregiver.

1. Find a support group

I wish I understood the power of joining a support group, which is a great way to meet and learn from people that have experience in formal or informal caregiving. It would have helped my learning curve just by listening to people who had experience doing what I was doing.

In addition to learning from their experience, you may develop a network of people who simply get what you’re going through, which can be a great benefit. You can find caregiving support groups through a variety of organizations as well as online through Meetup and Facebook.

2. Create and maintain boundaries

Many of the more stressful situations I experienced as a caregiver came from a lack of, or poorly defined, boundaries. I have since learned that boundaries are important for every relationship, and caregiving is no different. Your boundaries will help define your relationship with your care recipient and other parties.

For example, a boundary for a caregiver could be restricting when and how they’re contacted, what they are and are not willing to do and who they’re willing to discuss certain things with. Understanding and maintaining your boundaries can prevent burning out. When creating your own boundaries, you will need to consider and be realistic about the needs of the person you are caring for as well as your own capacity to handle them. Learn to clearly state what you are willing and not willing to do and be firm. Setting boundaries can feel difficult or even mean, but it is better for everyone involved.

3. Know when to seek and accept help

I often found myself feeling overwhelmed with the growing responsibilities of caring for my grandfather as his condition worsened. What started off as me helping out with the occasional doctor visit or grocery run became several hours a day nearly seven days a week. When things grew too much, I finally reached out to my family and some professionals, such as temporary in-home aids, doctors and nurses, to fill in the things that I simply couldn’t do.

One of the greatest reliefs I had was my cousin who began helping me with some of the daily tasks such as preparing food. Help may come in the form of having other family members chip in or finding a professional to handle some of the things you aren’t able to, but you won’t receive anything without recognizing and requesting it. Do not be afraid or ashamed to seek the help you need.

4. Give yourself credit (go easy on yourself)

There will be people who question how hard you’re really working or if you’re really doing everything they think feel needs to be done. My decisions or actions were often challenged by my grandfather, family and occasionally medical professionals. The feeling of not quite knowing if I had the caregiving thing figured out haunted me, and it was easy to feel as if I was not doing enough.

It is important that you self-assess and give yourself recognition for doing the best you can in the situation. Understand that you are using your time to help someone in need. Take note of your wins, even if small. This role may at times feel thankless, so learn to show gratitude and acknowledgement to yourself.

As caregivers, we take on the task of ensuring a loved one has access to the care they need to continue as close to a normal life as possible. Through this, we may experience our own difficulties in maintaining a healthy balance with the responsibilities of caring for someone else and keeping normalcy in our own lives.

One of the best pieces of advice I received from a fellow caregiver is that caregivers have (at least) two people they are caring for — their patient and themselves.

Getty image by fizkes

Originally published: May 7, 2020
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