We are the sandwich generation; between caring for small children — a rising number of whom are born with developmental disabilities — and aging baby boomer parents, it’s not surprising that the number of caregivers is on the rise. But with all the time spent caring for everyone else, caregivers sometimes forget to care for themselves, a situation I am very familiar with. Here are some tips to help make sure you as the caregiver are taken care of as well.
1. Prioritize Sleep
I once jokingly told a friend that I would sleep when I was dead. When I told my doctor this, she replied that if I keep depriving myself of sleep, that day will come much sooner than I want it to. At that moment, I stopped joking and promised to start working on getting more sleep. I know, when you’re a mother, that’s easier said than done, especially when you are a mother of children with special needs. Here are a few tips I found helpful when tackling my own sleep problem:
- Set an alarm so you don’t worry about waking up on time.
- Have a bedtime routine for yourself and the kids, with limited screen time.
- Tire yourself out with a workout or even just a stroll with the kids.
- Keep the bedroom cool and dark for a sleep-inducing environment.
- Track your sleep with a Fitbit or other device so you can see progress.
2. Reduce Your Stress
Stress can feel so ever-present that it’s sometimes hard to notice when it crosses the line and becomes too much. If you are a caregiver for a loved one, let’s just assume you have stress and would benefit from reducing it. Here’s how you can:
- Exercise! In their 2013 book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey and Eric Hagerman declare that the endorphins from exercise work as well as, if not better than, antidepressants.
- Treat yourself to a spa day. I think it is physically impossible not to relax and let go at least a little during a refreshing treatment like a facial, mani, or pedi. If massages aren’t in the budget, check to see if there is a local massage school offering reduced rates for student massages. If time is of the essence, a quick manicure can do the trick.
- Studies have shown that people who are grateful are happier and feel less stressed. So how do you become one of these grateful people? Practice makes perfect. I use a daily gratitude app on my iPhone called Gratitude! Taking a few minutes to think through and then actually type the top five things I’m grateful for each day really does help me focus on the positive, and makes it more present in my mind before the day is done.
3. Allow Yourself Free Time
Remember the days of doing things for you? Doing simple things you enjoyed just cuz? It’s time to re-introduce that into your life. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day or once a week, it will keep you sane.
- “Me time” is the easiest thing to bump off a schedule. After all, the only person you disappoint by missing that is yourself. You have to stop doing this. Put “me time” appointments in your schedule and treat them like you would a doctor appointment or a meeting with a client. Then take your book to the park, have tea at the tea house, or go see a movie — whatever floats your boat. Spend this time alone, with no one demanding your attention or asking you to fix or do something.
- Whenever respite care falls through, date night gets cancelled. Try to avoid this at all costs. Caregivers can often accidentally neglect taking care of their romantic relationship and their own romantic needs when the crisis of caring for a loved one arises. But as anyone who has been in a long-term care situation knows, the crisis could last for years or even decades. Scheduling and sticking with date night is important, for you and your partner. If you have no choice but to cancel your date night, enjoy a little quiet time with your significant other in the house after the person you are caring for has gone to bed.
- When you are caregiving, casual meet-ups with friends may suddenly disappear, but we all need a little help from our friends. Schedule appointments to hang out, and put them in the calendar and stick with them. Tell friends not to let you cancel. If you aren’t able to get out of the house, invite them over. It may do them a world of good to see exactly what is going on with you.
4. Get Extra Support
Caregivers need help and support. Sometimes your loved ones cannot provide exactly what you need, and that is OK.
- At some point, it will probably be helpful for both you and your family if you find a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist to speak with to get some professional and unbiased advice.
- You don’t have to be clinically depressed to benefit from counseling. But, if natural remedies aren’t working, medication is worth bringing up with your doctor or counselor.
Jennifer Turrell is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.