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A blogger-friend called me last night to ask for advice; she was exhausted from taking care of her family. She felt guilty that she wanted to have a break from it all. Was it wrong to be selfish? she wondered. I assured her that giving herself some free time was the right thing to do - there was nothing wrong with that.
I am also a caregiver (for an 89-year-old aunt) and I understand how the responsibility for care-giving can add extra stress to one's life, especially if there's little chance that a family member will ever get better.
The advice I gave? The same advice that frequent flyers hear before taking off for their destination: if there is an emergency and the oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartment, then put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help anyone else. If you try to assist a disabled person or your children before yourself, you may pass out and then everyone dies. The most important rule in care-giving is take care of yourself first.
OK, so how does one do that?
Myasthenia Gravis Association, Caregiving & Support
Focus a portion of each day on doing some small activity that refreshes you, whether it’s reading, being outdoors, listening to music, talking with a friend, or some other activity you enjoy.
If care of your loved one becomes extreme or time-consuming, at least once a week, ask trusted friends or family to take over with caregiver responsibilities so that you can have time to yourself. If you can afford it, or your insurance provides coverage, you might consider bringing in a part-time professional nurse or nurse’s aide. However you schedule it, try to schedule a block of time each week that’s just for you.
If you don't make time for yourself it won't just be stress falling on your head, you'll be taking on anger as well:
brainline.org, Making Choices, Taking Charge
If you don't [take charge of your life], you will become bitter and resentful, and your self-esteem will ultimately suffer. You will lose sight of the reason you chose to become a caregiver in the first place, which is because you love that person and want what's best for them.
Sometimes caregivers are in such a mental fog they don't realize they're heading for a breakdown - here are some symptoms:
Elder Care ABC, Address Caregiver Stress, Before You’re a Mess!
Signs of caregiver stress can include anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, irritability, sleep problems, and social withdrawal. If you notice these signs in yourself, it’s time to address them now, before more serious medical problems develop.
According to a report by the Family Caregiver Alliance, caregivers are more likely than non-caregivers to experience digestive problems, heart disease, hypertension, and other chronic illnesses. In fact, a recent study by Indiana University found that 25% of family caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease had at least one emergency room visit or hospitalization every six months.
Caregiving can be dangerous to your health - Take Care of Yourself First.
Disclaimer: As always when I give this kind of advice on my blog - this information is for entertainment purposes only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Do not delay seeking advice from a professional health care provider because of something you have read on the Internet, including my website. In case of emergency, please call your doctor or 911 immediately. See my full Disclaimer for more details.