In our last blog-post, ‘Should self-care be a top-priority for family caregivers?’, we discussed the importance of carers taking responsibility for their own wellbeing. Practising self-care can ensure that they are able to provide a continually high level of care for their loved ones and prevent them from burning out or experiencing debilitating health problems.
But just how do you practise self-care?
As a family caregiver, it can often feel impossible to have any time for yourself, particularly if you have a young family to care for, a job or home to manage as well. Those little luxuries that everyone else seems to take for granted, like taking a long bath, reading a book or getting out of bed late at the weekend can seem oh so far away. However, practising self-care doesn’t necessarily mean taking time away from care giving, it can simply mean recognising your limits and changing your current lifestyle habits. Nevertheless, if you can make time in the day or during the week to relax and unwind, it can have an enormously positive impact on your life and that of your loved one who you are caring for.
Remember, you are not being selfish by looking after yourself!
Take a look at our five suggestions for practising self-care below, to help you get started.
1. Learn to accept your feelings and limits
Caring for an elderly relative or loved one with dementia is not easy, in fact, it can be one of the most difficult jobs for someone to undertake. Negative feelings such as guilt, anger, irritability, stress and resentment are a part of care giving, and it is OK to feel them. However, if you learn to accept and understand these feelings, it may help you to find effective coping mechanisms.
Knowing when to stop, slow down and say no will also greatly improve your mental and physical wellbeing, as taking on too much puts you on a fast route to ‘carer burnout’. Show yourself compassion and remember that you are doing the best that you can in this moment.
2. Find opportunities to exercise
Being a little more active throughout your day can work wonders for your health and wellbeing. It can promote better sleep, reduce tension, anxiety & depression and increase energy levels & alertness. Physical activity can also stimulate the production of endorphins, which help you to feel happier and more relaxed.
Walking is one of the best and easiest exercises and can help to reduce any psychological tension. Try to walk everywhere that you can instead of driving, and if possible take your loved one with you for a walk, so that you can both experience the benefits.
Taking part in group workout sessions may give you the respite time that you need to unwind and can also be a great way to meet new people. However, you can also perform some light exercises or stretches with your elderly relative or loved one with dementia, if they are willing to join in.
3. Get creative with your spare time
Doing something creative is a fantastic way to focus your mind and energy away from the norm. And the exciting news is that there are many different possibilities for you try.
Here are just a few examples: start a new craft or DIY project, relax with a colouring book, paint a picture, take photographs of nature or family and friends, listen to music, meditate, follow a recipe, cook and bake.
If you’re still stuck for ideas, Pinterest is an excellent source for discovering new hobbies, with thousands of ideas for how you can get creative.
4. Eat a healthy diet
Most people know that eating a healthy, balanced diet is what we should be doing, but when we have stressful or tiring days, usually all we want to do is reach for comfort food. However, just moments after that temporary, albeit yummy fulfilment, the negative effects can start to set-in. This can include tiredness, fatigue and extra body weight and in the long-term you can experience more severe health problems like heart disease and diabetes.
So it’s really important that we try to eat as healthily as possible. Doing so can help to control weight, boost happiness, confidence, energy and overall wellbeing, which are incredibly important, especially when caring for a loved one.
Eating whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, fruit and lots of vegetables is ideal, together with lowering your intake of foods which are high in fat, sugar and salt.
5. Ask for and accept help
Sometimes it can simply feel too hard to ask for help. We don’t want to seem like a failure, be a burden on someone, or place our own responsibilities onto others. However, asking for help when you need it is a sign of personal strength.
If you have friends and family who are available, try asking for help with getting the shopping in, or if they would pop around for a cup of tea with your loved one, to give you a break. Support groups such as the Alzheimer’s Society can also help. They offer a range of services that can help you with your daily activities or arranging respite care. The main thing is to try not to wait until you are overwhelmed and exhausted or start having health problems.
If you are worried about leaving your elderly relative or loved one with dementia alone while they are at home, using a home monitoring system such as TextCare would be ideal. You can easily check to see that they are following their normal routines and be alerted if anything out of the ordinary happens. This will provide you with much needed peace of mind and you will be able to get on with your day without worrying or feeling guilty.