When our lives become devoted to caring for the well-being of another, it’s natural to deprioritize our own health. Caregivers of loved ones with extraordinary and multiply-complex needs often spend long hours exerting physical and mental strength and effort. When those caregivers are overworked and overwhelmed, it’s not uncommon for them to begin to experience symptoms of depression including an inability to sleep, feelings of exhaustion, severe tiredness, tension, and inability to concentrate or remember details. The past few years of this pandemic have brought many of these issues into the mainstream, even for caregivers of typically developing children. Mental health for parents, grandparents, and other caregivers is reaching crisis levels. Caring for others is not impossible when the caregiver is depleted, but the care given will deteriorate over time. If the level of care survives, it is very likely the caregiver will experience very negative consequences. We urge caregivers to practice some of the strategies listed below to stay happy, healthy, and equipped for the task ahead. As they tell you on airplanes: Secure your own oxygen mask first.
Take a Break
If you have been the primary provider for a child or adult with extraordinary needs, chances are you cannot imagine how he or she will survive without you. And perhaps you have begun thinking that you cannot survive, or do not exist, without a person to worry about, dispense medicine to, and provide for. This is not a healthy existence for either of you. The care you provide is truly unique and special, but there are others who can do the job adequately while you take a break.
If it’s not feasible for you to get away for a night or a weekend, then spend at least a few hours doing something just for you. Remember what you used to do before you were a parent and caregiver. Do you like to go to the beach, or hike in the mountains? Do you enjoy running, or reading, or going to the mall? Self-care can be a luxurious spa day, complete with massages and facials and mud baths, or often it is as simple as making yourself for a quiet cup of tea and looking at guilty pleasure magazines for an hour or two. Make this a part of your weekly or at least monthly routine. Respite care is often available through community organizations to most families with loved ones that require extra care. Here are some ideas:
Self Care Activities
- Call a good friend without distraction
- Take your tea or coffee to a quiet spot and sip in silence or while listening to your favorite music
- Watch a comfort show (though this isn’t recommended for late at night after everyone has gone to bed!)
- Take a walk with a neighbor you enjoy, or alone.
- Ten minutes of yoga (Fightmaster Yoga has some great free videos)
- Start a gratitude practice. Write down three things (it can be simple! “coffee, sunshine, more coffee”) every morning. You can use a journal or a notes app on your phone.
- Complete a guided meditation (this is one of my favorites).
Staying up late every night to pore over articles on the internet is not going to fix your child or help him in any significant way. Your time is better spent getting some much-needed rest. Create your own bedtime routine by taking a few minutes to wind down after your loved one is settled and sleeping soundly. This may include a self-imposed ban on screens and media. It could be as simple as washing your face with a yummy-smelling cleanser, stretching or practicing yoga, or stepping outside and just looking up at the stars with a cup of relaxing golden milk (this is a great recipe from the Minimalist Baker).
Whatever you need to do to detach from the day, relax, and prepare for sleep - take that task seriously. Get into bed with comfy sheets; wear pajamas that make you feel cozy. Try to sleep at the same time every night, as your body will fall into a rhythm, and get at least seven hours, if possible. Upon waking, consider healthy routines such as having a big glass of water and stretching. Eat a good, protein-packed breakfast. Stay hydrated throughout the day. Preventing hunger and fatigue can do wonders for keeping you in mental shape.
About Kids Home Health Care cares for our caregivers so that our caregivers can care for our patients. Call us if you need a break, respite, or a get-together with a friend or two who have walked in your shoes.